Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers ‘Mojo’ Album Review

Tom Petty was a major force in rock music for going on 35 years, and in 2010 he and his band turned their full attention to the blues. Recording attention, that is. Tom confessed at the time that he had listened mostly to the blues for going on 10 years. Tom was quoted as saying he had the sound of the Allman Brothers in mind when he made this record. Years ago Petty’s music was heavily influenced by the sound of the 12 string guitar. Based on his note-perfect version of The Byrds’ classic Feel A Whole Lot Better from the 1989 album Full Moon Fever, I would have expected at some point in his career a recording devoted to covering The Byrds and/or The Searchers catalogues. A shame that never happened.

That said, Mojo is a strong piece of work that harkened back to the way people used to go into the studio: without months of planning, preconception, or 50 Takes To Ruin a Record. This record was made the old way – rent some time, play the songs, don’t worry about the overdubs, and make the most of the space and your group members’ talents.

Speaking of members, Petty’s newest addition at the time, the drummer Steve Ferrone, was a relative newcomer to the Heartbreakers, having joined a mere 16 years before this record. Scott Thurston on harmonica, piano and percussion, signed up 19 years previously. Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench played with Tom since the mid-1970s. The band’s guitars dated back forty-five and fifty years. By all this I don’t mean these guys were old. For decades, this was the best live band in America.

There are three or four classics on this album, and while on first listen the 15 songs seem overlong, that’s only on the first listen. The record opens with Jefferson Jericho Blues, a fast-paced examination of President Tom Jefferson’s secret relationship with one of his slaves and his “midnight creepin’ out to the servant’s shack”. The Trip to Pirate’s Cove is a great story song that matches anything Dylan accomplished in his prime. For example “We headed out to Pirate’s Cove in my buddy’s old Defender..” I love that specificity in Tom’s writing. In a single word he can summon up all sorts of images in the listener’s mind. This song features some terrific Mike Campbell guitar work, as well as some haunting background vocals, as well as the wonderful lyric lines “ She was a part of my heart, now she’s just a line in my face”.

The two closing numbers were the strongest songs the group had recorded in years. Something Good Coming brings to mind the recent great writing and vocal work of Bob Dylan and Tom’s own Hard Promises album, an acknowledged masterpiece. He never sang so tenderly or as optimistically as on this song. The final tune Good Enough is an instant classic, a tale of a man drawn to a woman who is the ruin of him. Co-written with Mike Campbell, the best lead guitarist in America, this song demonstrated conclusively that both Mike and Tom Petty were still at the top of their game.