The Petty Archives

Two rock vets glad to have the blues
By Jesse De Leon
Corpus Christi Caller-Times - Friday, June 25, 2010

Tom Petty, Steve Miller return with albums
CORPUS CHRISTI -- It's been nearly eight years since Tom Petty released an album with his band the Heartbreakers.

A highlight of the band's sprawling catalog is the tough, slickly produced "Damn the Torpedoes," its 1979 masterwork that has become the record against which most of Petty's releases have been measured.

It wasn't until 1989's "Full Moon Fever," a solo project apart from the Heartbreakers, that Petty's laid back approach emerged with winning results. The album yielded a handful of hits, not the least of which was "Free Fallin'," his watermark solo moment.

Through the '90s and beyond, Petty has recorded with and without the Heartbreakers, but on his latest, "MOJO" (Reprise), he regroups with the guys to concoct an intoxicating brew of blues, folk, and his own brand of rock that rolls a little slower than past efforts but is no less interesting.

Gone are the days of Petty's feisty rants that made songs such as "American Girl" and "Don't Do Me Like That" instant classics. Instead, the understated vocal style he adopted for "Full Moon Fever" is what he relies on for most of these tracks, and that low key treatment is what makes the blues of "Lovers Touch" and "Let Yourself Go" simmer amid their comfortably expert arrangements.

"Jefferson Jericho Blues" is a mini-suite that's a rough-hewed workout that gains its momentum from the impressive balance of strings and guitars that adorn the track behind Petty's weary but somewhat hopeful voice.

It's precisely that expressiveness that makes the rough and tumble rhythm and blues flourishes of "First Flash of Freedom" and "The Trip to Pirate's Cove" so convincing. And Petty lets the Heartbreakers pull out all the stops for the final track, the blues-meets-swamp-rock epic "Good Enough".

Steve Miller could barely walk through his house.

Every room was filled with stacks and stacks of records that he had collected since the mid 1960s. He finally had to do something, but he wasn't about to part with his beloved collection that had invaded his living space.

So he hired a team of archivists, and they set upon the daunting task of converting all of these records to CD and mp3 so that Steve could finally have some breathing room. Not only was Miller finally able to comfortably walk through his own home, he rediscovered songs that he hadn't heard in years.

The blues, soul, and early rock and roll songs that he'd grown up with were now suddenly available to him in a much more manageable form, and he immersed himself in this beloved music. He drew up a list of about 100 tunes that had made such a big influence on him during his life, and his rediscovery of those songs led him to record several of them.

As difficult as it was, he whittled the playlist down to just 10 songs, and they make up "Bingo!" (Space Cowboy/Roadrunner), his latest album.

Miller's voice hasn't aged at all, sounding as velvet as it did on his well-known hits such as "The Joker," "Rockin' Me" and "Jet Airliner." This time out, though, he's using that instantly recognizable croon on these rock and blues chestnuts with impressive results.

Miller's love for these nuggets is clear as he gives an affectionate nod to B.B. King on "Rock Me Baby," Otis Rush on "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)" and Jessie Hill on "Ooh Poo Pah Doo."

His versions of these songs effectively bridge their historic significance to Miller's contemporary but tastefully unadorned treatment. And he invites some of his good friends to offer their talents in homage to these rhythm and blues rarities, with guitar wiz Joe Satriani and ace percussionist Michael Carabello turning in almost reverential performances that give Steve Miller's vocals and guitar work an even sharper clarity on this affecting and heartfelt love note to the blues.