The Petty Archives

Rooted in the southern experience
By Doug Gallant
Charlottetown Guardian - June 26, 2010

Tom Petty chose the title for his latest project well.
MOJO pretty much says it all.

Petty, who will turn 60 this fall, truly got his mojo workin' when he and The Heartbreakers entered the studio to make what is, for all intents and purposes, their first real studio album in more than five years.

"With this album, I want to show other people what I hear with the band," the Grammy Award-winning Petty says on his website. "MOJO is where the band lives when it's playing for itself."

Only they're not playing for themselves, they're playing for you.

Consider yourself lucky.

This is the kind of record many of Petty's fans have been hoping for for some time, a record in which he revisits his southern roots and allows himself and his band to cut loose and take the music wherever they feel it should go.

What came out of these sessions is a meaty stew of blues, folk, country, psychadelia, reggae, southern soul and garage band rock, pretty much everything in the southern arsenal, played with the kind of passion that only a band that has logged this many miles together can summon up.

Petty's name may come first in the credits but MOJO is definitely a band record.

Almost everybody gets their shot at the spotlight on this set, which runs well over an hour.

There are times in fact when Petty seems to stand down in favour of allowing his boys to show you what they can do.

And what they can do, as any longtime Heartbreakers fan can tell you, is rather impressive.

That's particularly true in the case of guitarist Mike Campbell and onetime Jeff Beck keyboard player Benmont Tench.

Scott Thurston's work on harmonica also serves Petty well here, particularly on cuts like Let Yourself Go.

You can happily get lost in some of the music here, as I did listening to the Allman Brothers-like twin leads featured in one section of First Flash of Freedom or the bluesy ramble that kicks off the album, Jefferson Jericho Blues, a song about Thomas Jefferson's longstanding affair with Sally Hemings, a mixed-race slave on his Virginia plantation.

And while you can get lost in the music do pay attention to some of the lyrics Petty penned here.

He addresses a number of themes on MOJO, several of which, like the music, are rooted in the southern experience, from the inter-racial no-no's of the pre-Civil War south and young fellas getting' into trouble to the fear of being pulled over by the local police with a little marijuana in the car, something which has always been treated far more seriously in the south than in the north.

There are some tracks here that I had to cycle through a couple of times before I really warmed to them - Something Good Coming is a good example - but generally speaking there isn't a bad track on this set.

Cuts like Jefferson Jericho Blues, Running Man's Bible, the hard-hitting I Should Have Known It, Let Yourself Go and Good Enough stand with the best tracks he's ever written.

Beautifully crafted and handsomely produced MOJO is a real gem.

(Rating: 4 stars out of 5)