Sunday, February 22, 2015

CD Odyssey Disc 708: Tom Petty

Welcome to Sunday, gentle readers! Sunday is both the best and worst day of the weekend. It is relaxing and laid back, but at the same time you can feel the start of the work week just around the corner, ready to mess with your mojo. Speaking of mojo…

Disc 708 is…. Mojo
Artist: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Year of Release: 2010

What’s up with the Cover? A bunch of words and some “photobooth” style shots of Tom Petty (who has been taken over by a beard in recent years) and the Heartbreakers (who have not).

How I Came To Know It: I am big fan of Tom Petty so I basically buy his albums when they come out. That’s what happened here.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 15 Tom Petty Albums. Of these, “Mojo” is not one of my favourites and I’ll rank it 13th.

Rating: 3 stars

“Mojo” suffers a little by being sandwiched between two really good Tom Petty albums: 2006’s “Highway Companion” and 2014’s “Hypnotic Eye.” Despite this, I found myself enjoying it more on this listen than I have previously.

The first thing you notice with “Mojo” is how bluesy it is. It is so bluesy that I’ve decided to tag it both rock and blues. It isn’t Howlin’ Wolf or John Lee Hooker or anything, but the influences are obvious from the opening track, “Jefferson Jericho Blues.” Some songs just put the word ‘blues’ in their title but really aren’t blues – this isn’t one of them, and there are plenty more on the album (“Running Man’s Bible,” “Candy,” “US 41,” and others) that also deserve that designation.

The best of these is “Running Man’s Bible” which has that low, gritty sensibility that the blues always seem to have. These are songs that make you feel like getting out of bed at noon and skipping a shower. It is clear that guitarist Mike Campbell relishes playing the blues licks as well, and his guitar is as good on “Mojo” as any of the band’s earlier work.

Petty’s voice has also held up very well over the years; one of the advantages of never being known as a great vocalist to begin with, I suppose. And like other great but vocally limited songwriters (Steve Earle, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt) he knows how to write a song that lands nicely in his wheelhouse.

In addition to bluesy songs, there are atmospheric ballads that paint vibrant pictures of the many characters you might run into out there in the lonely strips of American highway in between cities.

The Trip to Pirate’s Cove” is a great lowlife road trip track with a dreamy quality that evokes empty stomachs, low gas tanks and cheap motel sex with strangers; in this case the actual maids working there.

There is also plenty of introspection, including the gentle, understated “No Reason to Cry,” and the stark but hopeful “Something Good Coming.”

The up-tempo blues-rock tracks alternate with these more introspective songs. While both are good in their own right, the effect feels like two different albums that have been shuffled together. It doesn’t help that the record is 15 songs long and over 64 minutes, making it hard to get your head around all the music. I would have preferred “Mojo” to have been split into two albums each half the length, and more musically cohesive.

However, if anyone can take a sprawling mess of styles and turn it into a panorama of American life it is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Listening to “Mojo” again made me realize that I didn’t give it enough time when I first bought it, and I’m resolved to get it into a more regular rotation in future.

Best tracks: Running Man’s Bible, The Trip to Pirate’s Cove, No Reason to Cry, Don’t Pull Me Over, Something Good Coming

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