Into The Great Wide Open: RIP Tom Petty

I was hoping there wouldn’t be such a delay in this post but it’s been a bit of a hectic October for me thus far (Again). The Chicago Cubs are playing deep into the postseason for the third straight year and I also became a father (More on that for another post) but I would be remiss if I did not share my thoughts on the passing of the one and only Tom Petty.

Tom Petty was a true pioneer and an American original who loved Elvis, The Beatles, The Byrds, and Bob Dylan among many others. He took those influences and distilled them into an art form and medium distinctly his own. A chiming Americana with a cinematic and cerebral essence laced with razor sharp wit. He could write timeless classic anthems (American Girl, I Need To Know, Listen To Her Heart, Refugee, Even The Losers, Here Comes My Girl, Don’t Do me Like That, The Waiting, Don’t Come Around Here No More, Free Fallin’, I Won’t Back Down, Runnin’ Down A Dream, Yer So Bad, Learning To Fly, Into The Great Wide Open, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Crawling Back To You, Walls (Circus), Room At The Top, Swingin’, The Last DJ, Have Love Will Travel), pile-driving rockers (Anything That’s Rock ‘N’ Roll, Century City, What Are You Doin’ In My Life?, You Wreck Me, Honey Bee, Sweet William, Saving Grace, I Should’ve Known It, American Dream Plan B), and lilting numbers so delicate it feels like they could disintegrate or shatter at any moment (Insider, Southern Accents, Alright For Now, Wildflowers, Wake Up Time, Lonesome Sundown, Echo, Blue Sunday, Square One, Something Good Coming). I feel even to call him a legend is a bit of a disservice. He was an American institution that galvanized our collective conscience. Almost anyone anywhere has heard a Tom Petty song or has a Tom Petty story that means something deeply to them. He’s woven himself into our DNA.

I’d like to share my experiences with Tom Petty and what he means to me personally. It started in high school when I was still just a casual fan of his. I must confess I had his hits scattered across burnt CD’s and I thought that was probably good enough for me. But little did I know that was just the tip of the iceberg.

I came to be a die-hard Tom Petty fan in probably one of the more unexpected ways with the most unexpected album. It began on a day where I was skipping my college classes as a Freshman in the Fall of 2002. I was still living at home and going to a community college at the time. I had no real reason to skip classes other than maybe to recharge the batteries from one of hundreds of run-of-the-mill house parties I’d attend during those years with my usual suspects from the night before. I remember watching a brief promo spot with Tom Petty on his upcoming new album at the time, The Last DJ. If memory serves me this was on the TV Guide scrolling channel, yes stuff like that actually happened in the early 21st century kids. Now any of you who are big Tom Petty marks know this album was critically maligned and panned due to its scathing commentary of the music industry. I never really understood this backlash because 1.) He was right about everything he said and 2.) The songs are brilliant and The Last DJ as a whole was cohesively strung together with the intensive care of an expert auteur. To this day it’s still my favorite album of his since Wildflowers.

After The Last DJ kicked open the door to my mind for Tom Petty I became an omnivore of his work. Seeking and consuming anything and everything he had ever put a fingerprint to. My musical awakening (As it often does) really was kick-started into hyper-drive with my emancipation from home. With that independence though I still needed guidance. I needed a compass, a true north and I sought comfort and solace in the sage wisdom and divine transcendence of the catalogs of what would become my Mt. Rushmore of Rock & Roll. Those four individuals that became my forefathers are Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and of course Tom Petty.

The spiritual shakedown, the big bang of my musical universe specifically accelerated the Spring of 2004 and with it my record collection exploded, including my Petty collection. After this I knew there was no turning back. I listened tirelessly to masterpieces like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Damn The Torpedoes, Hard Promises, Full Moon Fever, Wildflowers, Echo, and the aforementioned The Last DJ. Petty’s classic albums helped me through a particularly stagnant and depressing Winter of 2007/2008 both personally and professionally. I was getting nowhere but every time I heard those clarion calls from Petty I felt like I was soaring above all of mankind and architecture. Even in the darkest deepest doldrums of that Winter he would be able to make a smile crack across my face like lightning.

That particularly Petty-obsessed period spurred me on to get a ticket to see him live in Chicago in the Summer of 2008. I was fortunate to see him live three times with The Heartbreakers and it was like watching true masters of mythical proportion cranking out masterpieces like they had always been there on a biblical or classical scale.

At one point I spent 50 dollars ( ! ) on a Japanese import of Echo single “Room At The Top” just for the incendiary blues of the non-album rarity “Sweet William” that only true bleeding heart Tom Petty zealots will know about.

I became an acolyte and an advocate for Peter Bogdanovich’s film Runnin’ Down A Dream on Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. It’s still my favorite music documentary by far.

New Tom Petty albums that came out after this became milestone events for me. Highway Companion arrived during a personal renaissance for me in the Summer of 2006. I went overboard with it and it became the soundtrack to a large portion of my Summer that year. Mojo came out in 2010, his first with The Heartbreakers since 2002 and I had another soundtrack lined up for June. I loved it’s Chicago style blues showing the dynamic versatility of Petty and co. His last studio album in 2014, also with The Heartbreakers, was Hypnotic Eye. Yet another Summer burner it was an excellent coda for a band and its leader at the zenith of their prowess and powers. The sound of 40 years of symbiosis powering an engine of angst-riddled riffs and Gainesville swamp, sculpted into a career-spanning exclamation point.

Besides the music, I deeply admired the way he carried himself personally and professionally, it felt like a beacon of light to me.  He didn’t suffer fools gladly and he didn’t take shit from anyone. He was a 24-karat rocker through and through but he was earnest and it was welded into his bone marrow to do the right thing. He wouldn’t budge on his principles and he snarled and raged against the slightest whiff of injustice or corruption. He had a fierce loyalty to his friends and family and I’d like to think it’s one of my better virtues in part because of him. He literally never backed down from confrontation if it was a war fought in the name of being morally sound.

Upon hearing of his passing I sobbed. I sobbed like I had lost a family member, in part because I had. Tom Petty was like a father to me in many ways and he is my hero. Now the world feels more like a bird with clipped wings and it’s less vibrant without him. Somehow, someway we have to learn to fly again.

 

RIP Tom, you were a good man to ride the river with.

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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Hypnotic Eye

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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Hypnotic Eye

8.8 / 10

Anything that’s Rock & Roll:

Petty & crew return with a raucous Classic Rock marvel

 

Rock music has always thrived off conflict and disenchantment. Its rebellious nature at times leads to its marginalization from the mainstream conscience and yet it’s in that neglect that its enduring flame burns brightest at the core revealing a true indomitable spirit. One of its greatest torch-bearing crusaders has been Tom Petty who’s been raging against the dying of the light for the last four decades now.

It’s 2014 and American music is more plasticized and hollow than ever. It’s a landscape rife with cardboard cut-out homogenized pop country acts and computerized EDM manipulated by talentless hacks. What’s definitely not in fashion is substantial guitar-driven rock music. Cue Tom Petty sounding the battle horn galloping into this now foreign American frontier with his valiant knights The Heartbreakers armed to the hilt with six-string bayonets on their uncompromising slab of Classic Rock Hypnotic Eye.

“I knew I wanted to do a Rock & Roll record,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone earlier this year regarding Hypnotic Eye. “We hadn’t made a straight hard-rockin’ record, from beginning to end, in a long time.” Petty more than achieves that with a powder keg of feral virility akin to some of his earliest recordings with The Heartbreakers while also integrating their matured sense of self-awareness keen on craft. Guitars weaned off of the chiming sounds of The Byrds and new wave flourishes are alternatively soiled in the murky bayou waters from their home state of Florida. One of Petty’s earliest bands Mudcrutch (Which also included Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench) may actually be the largest influence. Dusty distortion and swampy blues borrowed from the early ‘70s outfit combine with the elderly statesmen proficiency making a crackling unapologetic racket.

Political undercurrents course just beneath the surface throughout the record only to come surging to the forefront in areas. None more prevalent than opening track “American Dream Plan B” in which Petty speaks on the disillusionment and the general disappearance of middle-class America. Backed by a prowling predatory riff, Petty sneers, “I’m half lit, I can’t dance for shit.” Lead guitarist Mike Campbell cuts a searing winding Creedence-y solo before Petty finally realizes the American dream is really just a fantasy singing, “Well my mama’s so sad, daddy’s just mad cause I just ain’t gonna have the chance he had. My success is anybody’s guess but like a fool I’m betting on happiness.” The perennially defiant Petty however wails in the chorus, “I gotta dream I’m gonna fight till I get it right.” “Fault Lines” is a roadhouse boogie chugging along like an 18-wheeler peeling across a desert highway as Campbell interjects more piercing and scalding virtuosity while a gritty harp rides sidecar. “Red River” is fueled by a brawny riff to cut through the Everglades and Petty supplies plenty of faulty religious talismans (Rosary, rabbit’s foot, tiger tooth, Gris-gris stick, etc.) with the river itself serving as a baptismal font, “Meet me tonight at the Red River and look down into your soul.” Titanic galloping guitars swirl like cyclones through “All You Can Carry” while “Power Drunk” is a sauntering gnarled romp commentary on egregious abuse within the hierarchy and the high-octane “Forgotten Man” is a perfect follow up as the lament of a disenfranchised soul lost in a world of moral decay. “U Get Me High” is the lewdest song sonically here with a crunch that sounds as if the band is plugging in for the first time together and getting their rocks off with dissonant levels of amplification in their garage, aiming for old haunts like Dub’s Lounge in Gainesville rather than the biggest arenas around the world. The mojo is definitely working on the bluesy “Burnt Out Town” as another quasi-political piece portraying a town rampant with corruption and dilapidation (“There’s ashes on Main Street and the mayor is cooking the books, why even my best friends are turning into crooks”). The closer “Shadow People” eclipses the six-minute mark and is arguably the album’s finest moment. It’s a brooding slow-burner, marauding in the moonlight until it melds into a psychedelic trance middle section. Guitars dance around ringing ivory rain drops before giving way to another spiraling conflagration of Campbell’s ahead of Petty’s cautionary forecast, “And this one carries a gun for the U.S.A. he’s a 21st century man, and he’s scary as hell cause when he’s afraid he’ll destroy anything he don’t understand.” As the song simmers to a seeming finale there’s an added gentle acoustic coda as if a small glint of hope in Petty’s steely blue eyes stops the doomsday clock just before midnight as he muses, “Waiting for the sun to be straight over head till we ain’t got no shadow at all.”

Hypnotic Eye sounds stubborn and audacious, much like the outspoken often cantankerous man at its epicenter. It’s out of place and time but it’s those very same reasons why it resonates with reassurance. While Petty could’ve taken a solo attempt at a record like this it wouldn’t have been as captivating as there is a certain synergy he has with The Heartbreakers that can’t be replicated by any other hired guns that give his music that added level of vitality. Hypnotic Eye is a galvanizing statement made on its own terms that aims to blast through the thick layer of commercialized sediment. These are destined to become road dog songs built for kinetic interplay during live shows. Petty and The Heartbreakers are certainly not entering their geriatric years quietly and this further illustrates that they are an indispensable All-American institution. Nearly 40 years down the road, they’re still running down a dream.

BONNAROO 2013: A PLANETARY DEPARTURE

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BONNAROO 2013

It seemed as if it took about a century to get to Bonnaroo, I’d been waiting since February. It came and went leaving me in a daze, almost like it didn’t happen at all. Bonnaroo 2013 was another fantastic event, after a three-year absence I felt the time was right to go back. The lineup when I first laid eyes on it sounded too good to be true. With headliners like Mumford & Sons, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and Sir Paul McCartney, plus an astonishingly strong under-card, I couldn’t possibly pass this up. Besides being a massive fan of Tom Petty and being on the Mumford & Sons bandwagon from the very beginning, Paul McCartney was one of the last legendary icons I wanted to check off my list of seeing live. There are less than a handful of artists that are on this list that McCartney was on, with the two most prominent being The Rolling Stones and U2. Their ticket prices are far too exorbitant though to see just one artist. I still love both of those bands but paying several hundred dollars just for one act? No way guys (The most I’ve paid for one act is around $125 for Bruce Springsteen and he’s better live than The Stones or U2 could ever be). Sorry for that tangent there, anyway, I thought this was the best opportunity to see Macca, so the trigger I pulled way back in February ended up being a big dividend.

We arrived around 5am Thursday morning. I was in good company again, the same as the 2010 Bonnaroo trip. I have to commend Eric for driving all the way down there. Eastern Iowa to Manchester, TN is quite the haul. We still had to wait in line about three hours I think (I was dozing in and out of consciousness), way better than the 12 hours we waited in line last time. Once we got our campsite set up the imbibing commenced. Maybe we got out of the gates a little too fast, but I will say that Eric is one of the funniest people in that circumstance, first class entertainment on two legs, I had forgotten that. We wondered into the heart of Centeroo (The festival grounds) later on and first caught The Futurebirds. A really good country-rock act that kicked off their set with the sublime “Serial Bowls” which radiated with a southern-fried R.E.M. jangle. Next was the femme fatale duo known as Deap Vally. These ladies really impressed me and they busted through the boys club of rifftastic rock with unbridled ferocity. All hell broke loose when Japandroids came on though. I had been wanting to see them since their breakthrough record Celebration Rock came out last year. I caught them at Bonnaroo 2010 when I didn’t know much about them. If you’ve been around me the past year you know how much I’ve raved about Celebration Rock, one of my favorite records in the past few years, maybe ever. One more time, if you don’t have it… GET IT! Eric and I were thrown into the maelstrom and the savagery of the crowd. I knew they had mosh pits at their shows, but I thought we were far back enough to avoid that. I was wrong. We were thrashed about like a beat up boat on unforgiving waters. Japandroids tore through Celebration Rock scorchers like “Adrenaline Nightshift,” “Fire’s Highway,” “Evil’s Sway,” “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” and of course “The House That Heaven Built”. They also threw in a few older cuts such as “Young Hearts Spark Fire” before closing it out with the blistering Gun Club cover “For The Love Of Ivy.” After that show my body was exhausted due to minimal sleep from the previous 36 hours and I more or less crashed.

Day two I took it a little easier. The line to get into the festival was ridiculous, not a fan of them adopting the wristband scanning policy of Lollapalooza, too much of a hassle and bottleneck creator. We got in to see the last part of the Local Natives set before heading over to Of Monsters Of Men. Here’s a band that has really taken off in the past year, backed by Arcade Fire-esque anthems from their dynamite debut record My Head is an Animal such as “Dirty Paws,” “King and Lionheart,” “Mountain Sound,” “Six Weeks,” and their hit single “Little Talks.” They played to a massive swell of an audience at such a small stage. A bright future is in store for this Icelandic group for sure.

After that I settled in for the sure-fire excellency of Wilco. I believe this was the seventh time I’ve seen Wilco and they delivered again with a 19-song set that included “Art of Almost,” “Kamera,” “California Stars,” “Handshake Drugs,” “Impossible Germany,” “Jesus Etc.,” “Via Chicago,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “I’m The Man Who Love You,” and “A Shot in the Arm.”

Then came time for the main event… Macca, Sir Paul McCartney. I don’t know if you could say he stole the show because he was a Beatle but McCartney blew everyone else out of the water up until that point. There were conflicting reports on how long he played but he went on shortly after 9pm and played till about 11:50pm. Nearly three hours at 70-years-old (He turned 71 four days after this). This man’s songbook, the sheer depth of classics he has at his disposal is near unfathomable for one artist. It’s a set list that’s been reported to be 36 songs long (Unless you count the medley at the end as multiple songs, then it’s 38). He played Wings and solo hits like “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Junior’s Farm,” “Let Me Roll It,” and “Listen to What the Man Said.” The bulk of the show however was his timeless Beatles catalog. And rightfully so, they were delivered dynamically and impeccably, near-perfection. Paul and his backing band sounded phenomenal. Just when you thought he might be losing some steam he kicked the show into a stratospheric gear beginning with an 80,000-strong sing-a-long of “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da.” It was an onslaught, a murderers’ row of diamonds from then on. There was the epic “Band on the Run,” the jet-setting “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” soaring versions of “Let it Be” and “Hey Jude” and a pyrotechnics display not of this world for “Live and Let Die.” I thought the show might’ve ended there but he came back out for three encores. The first included Rubber Soul-era smash “Day Tripper,” the rollicking “Hi Hi Hi,” and a personal favorite of mine the propulsive Let It Be stomper “Get Back.” He came back on again armed with just an acoustic guitar for a stop-the-clocks rendition of “Yesterday” before the rest of the band rejoined him for the caustic pile-driver “Helter Skelter.” Again, I thought this had to be it. He returned yet again closing out the brilliant set with the Abbey Road medley of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End”. McCartney was in a dapper mood and didn’t even appear to break a sweat. There was a large sign that in the crowd that said “Maccaroo” and I couldn’t have put it any better than that. He owned the festival that night, reigning supreme. I can now check McCartney off my concert bucket list, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something.

I still had two days of music after that show, I couldn’t believe it. Saturday started with the shimmering beauty of Lord Huron’s set. Then I had to fuel up for the white-knuckle ride of Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls. Turner is a fantastic live act and proved to be that again. A blue-collared poet of the people Turner had us in the palm of his hand, a roller coaster on edge as he tore the pages out of his punk playbook with rallying cries like “Four Simple Words”, “Reasons Not To Be An Idiot,” “Glory Hallelujah,” “I Am Disappeared,” “Plain Sailing Weather,” “The Road,” “Recovery,” “Photosynthesis,” and “I Still Believe.” I caught the end of Portugal. The Man’s set after that. They’re a band I definitely want to see an entire live show of at some point, they sounded great and they always put out good records, but Frank Turner took precedence. There was another large swath of people to see The Lumineers. Similar to Of Monsters and Men, they saw a meteoric rise to fame off the strength of a mega hit, in this case, “Ho Hey.” The band was very cordial and appreciative of the large fan base they had accrued in such a short time frame.

Sunday was a much needed recovery day. Out in the Tennessee heat for four days without the usual amenities you take for granted (in-door plumbing, air conditioning, a comfortable bed) really takes its toll. After getting rested up at the campgrounds, it was time to head in for The National. The National are an interesting dichotomy of technical proficiency and high-stakes theater. The latter of course, comes solely from front man Matt Berninger.  Berninger guzzled glasses of wine (Or some concoction) with impunity as he howled through National cuts with booze-fueled tenacity. Once again Berninger wondered through the crowd singing and causing total chaos during their defiant cut “Mr. November.” The National seem like sad sacks on record and maybe at first glance too, but they’re so much more than that. I’ve seen them throw more passion and dangerous sonics into their sets than a lot of punk and metal bands.

The time then came for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (Cue “When The Time Comes”) to close out the festival. If you know me at all you know of my great affinity for Tom Petty. He’s on my Mt. Rushmore of Rock & Roll singer/songwriters along with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young. Petty & The Heartbreakers delivered a powerhouse set that mixed in massive hits, deep cuts, and covers kicking off with a thunderous rendition of The Byrds’ classic “So You Want To Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star.” Petty then delivered a couple cuts from Full Moon Fever “Love is a Long Road” and “I Won’t Back Down” which Petty introduced saying, “Let’s do one everyone can sing-a-long with.” Petty was in great spirits stating, “I don’t have to be anywhere for hours!” and “I predict we’re going to have an incredible time tonight.” He was right. Petty sounded marvelous with his vintage nasally croon and the band was all aces playing tight and also loose whenever the situation warranted it. They followed Petty wherever he needed them to go flawlessly. Lead guitarist Mike Campbell’s virtuosic chops in particular were on display (Whom Petty has anointed as his Co-Captain over the years) on stellar moments during the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go” (Which included a great rambling narrative by Petty saying goodbye to his “Bipolar” woman), the absolutely incendiary, blistering “Good Enough” and the roasting outro of the colossal “I Should Have Known It” where you swore Campbell’s guitar was going to leave a smoldering pile of rubble where the stage once was. His interplay with Petty also seemed effortless on lengthier jams like the Grateful Dead cover “Friend of the Devil” and “It’s Good To Be King.” Tom dusted off a gem from the Traveling Wilburys first record “Tweeter And The Monkey Man” that he co-wrote with Dylan. Petty mentioned his roots beginning in the South and then played a stripped-down version of “Rebels” from Southern Accents. As if that wasn’t enough the treasures seemed endless with staples like “Here Comes My Girl,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Free Fallin’,” “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me),” “Listen To Her Heart,” “Learning to Fly,” and “Yer So Bad.” Petty closed out the initial set with the one-two punch of clarion-call march “Refugee” and the open-road endearment of “Runnin’ Down A Dream.” With the crowd still completely enamored, Petty and the boys returned to the stage for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and the hard-charging “You Wreck Me” before ending with the song that put them on the map, “American Girl.” An excellent way to send the crowd home with one of the greatest songwriters ever and one of the greatest bands ever.

Of course with four days of music you’ll inevitably have some regrets. So many great acts and you go in with such big ambitions but it’s tough to get to everyone and for everything to go perfectly. I guess the biggest disappointment would be Mumford & Sons being forced to cancel their set. This was something that was completely out of their control though. Bassist Ted Dwane was recovering from brain surgery after a blood clot was found there. Luckily he’s already on the mend and is doing fine. I’d be more upset if I weren’t seeing them in less than two months at Lollapalooza. It should be a hell of a show. The next was missing out on the “Superjam” with Jim James and special guests. I wish I had a better excuse than being completely tired, but that’s basically the reason. James has been known to steal the show at Bonnaroo. He did so at the festival in 2008 with My Morning Jacket when they played a monumental four hour set into the wee hours of the night. I heard nothing but positive reviews from the Superjam show. Again there is a bit of consolation for me in the fact that I will be seeing James perform with My Morning Jacket at the AmericanaramA festival next month along with Wilco and Bob Dylan.

In the grand scheme of things those setbacks seemed minor mainly because of such unbelievable headlining sets by McCartney and Petty and a strong supporting cast. Bonnaroo was once again an unbelievable experience. So many elements combine for such a surreal and unforgettable time. It’s time I cherished greatly because it was four days but it was gone seemingly in the blink of an eye. If you ever get the chance to get down south to Bonnaroo I strongly recommend it. There’s no other place like it… on this planet anyway.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers bring it all back home with their loosest, rawest album album yet, Mojo:

 

Lead guitarist of the Heartbreakers Mike Campbell once stated that their motto as a band in their earlier days was “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” True to form, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers made songs like that which percolated through their first few records. Songs that were constricted but not suffocated, fine tuned into classic diamonds of borderline perfection with all the players getting their increments just right rather than stretching out to explore. An amalgam of jangling chiming guitars, thoughtful organ playing, and an air tight rhythm section. The records were always polished to a nice West Coast sheen, but that wasn’t always what fans saw live with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers which would occasionally be comprised of lengthy improvisation while still playing as in sync as they did on their records. Fans of the smooth veneer of some of the records in their canon may have their scent thrown off the trail in the Southern blues wilderness of their latest record Mojo.

Some of the skeletal structure of this album maybe attributed to Tom Petty’s 2008 side project with his first band Mudcrutch (Which also featured members of the Heartbreakers Mike Campbell on lead guitar and Benmont Tench on keyboards). They released a self-titled album that was dressed up in Southern country temperament blended with the Gainesville bayous. Some of the material that comprised the album would never have made it on a Heartbreakers record like the 9:29 long campfire-wisdom Crazy Horse style jam of “Crystal River”. However, the lengthy sonic workout proved to have much more of a live-in-studio feel which is how a large portion of Mojo was cut. Many of the songs in just one or two takes. Some of that early roots rock dust kicked up during the Mudcrutch sessions seems to have settled on the blueprints of Mojo as well.

Petty & his Heartbreakers fly East from their California Byrds-ian nests and first settle down on the Southside of 1950’s Chicago, blues capital of the world at that point. The opening track “Jefferson Jericho Blues” sets the scene for the rest of the album as Petty and the boys sound like a crack-ace Muddy Waters band in Rollin’ & Tumblin’ fashion. Multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston blows with the fervor of a mid-1960’s Keith Relf harmonica solo from The Yardbirds, and Petty’s best kept secret weapon also finally lets loose in Mike Campbell, his so called “co-captain”. Always one for restricting himself from reaching the true guitar hero virtuoso status like he’s been owed in favor of a more reserved style, he finally grabs that brass ring blending wildfire frenetic guitar breaks and visceral wild abandon solos. The near seven minute “First Flash of Freedom” finds the band in a drastic departure from their classic formula of song-craft. The psychedelic slow burning jam carves its own niche somewhere between the early Allman Brothers Band years as Campbell swoops in and out of that canyon nestling in between the shadows of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts with his carefree guitar grooves. “Running Man’s Bible” is a midnight creep across the countryside as Petty softly sneers “Here’s one to glory and survival/ And stayin’ alive/ It’s the running man’s bible.” as Benmont Tench’s liquid organ riffs offer a blanketing warmth from the uncertainty of the highway. Petty continues down the road till he reaches his destination on “The Trip to Pirate’s Cove”. A lucid rotisserie rotating song that has Petty meeting up with ghosts and pit-stops of his past before leaving them behind in his buddy’s old Defender with the wink of an eye with lines, “I got a friend in Mendocino/ And it’s gettin’ close to harvest time.” Petty and crew dive back into the deep end of the blues with “I Should Have Known It” as Campbell has us salivating with a monolithic Zeppelin-esque riff. Definitely one of the heaviest songs done by the band, a pile-driving rocker cut in the vain of “Honey Bee” as Campbell’s slide-guitar playing screeches with feral intensity before the rest of the band joins in and hits the ground running in a frenzied gallop finale. “U.S. 41” is a marriage of blues and country while “Takin’ My Time” has a sexual bedroom romp as Petty narrates like an old blues shaman unearthed from decades of dust. Another stand out is the wonderful ballad “Something Good Coming”. In an album not particularly full of balladry this one really stands out, because Petty’s always had a knack for crafting very memorable ones. An optimistic stripped down song that combines the sunrise trek of a Pacific Coast highway with a country waltz hospitality as Petty sings “And I’m in for the long run/ Wherever it goes/ Ridin’ the river/ Wherever it goes… There’s somethin’ good comin’/ For you and me/ Somethin’ good comin’/ There has to be.” The album’s closer “Good Enough” is an incendiary dirge as Campbell comes completely unhinged with avalanches of Wah-Wah swirling solos around Tench’s cathedral organ before finally setting his frets ablaze until the album finally slows down and comes to a smoldering stop.

Mojo is the first album Tom Petty has released with the Heartbreakers since 2002’s much maligned (Although greatly underappreciated and underrated) The Last DJ, and it sounds like a band completely comfortable in its own skin. Mojo is largely unlike anything Petty has previously recorded with the Heartbreakers and gives fans who haven’t experienced them yet live a glimpse at that very potential of a great show. It showcases just how good this band can be without being too streamlined or adding very many clicks or whistles or bells in studio tricks. This set of tunes was custom built ready for the road and can definitely stand up against the rest of Petty’s body of work. Tom has seemingly accepted the role as one of rock’s elderly statesman with one the greatest backing bands on the planet by leaning on the shoulders of the legends that created the birthplace rock & roll, the blues. A return to form? Not really, because it’s in different sonic territories that Tom is treading in with this record. Petty shows that he doesn’t have to rely on always recycling his traditional formula. Which in part, is what makes Mojo so good.

1. Jefferson Jericho Blues √

2. First Flash of Freedom √

3. Running Man’s Bible √

4. The Trip to Pirate’s Cove √

5. Candy

6. No Reason to Cry

7. I Should Have Known It √

8. U.S. 41

9. Takin’ My Time

10. Let Yourself Go

11. Don’t Pull Me Over

12. Lover’s Touch

13. High in the Morning

14. Something Good Coming √

15. Good Enough √