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Tom Petty: Mojo
Tom Petty morphs from heartland rocker slicing out three-minute insights about the American condition into bluesman on the appropriately titled Mojo. Petty’s mojo is working—along with his tight band—as he explores country, Delta, Chicago, Texas and assorted Southern blues idioms. There’s even a ‘60s British blues fireball, but whatever the direction, each number flows with that distinctive Petty flavor.
Mojo opens with the scorcher “Jefferson Jericho Blues,” a track that would fit snugly within Freddie King’s song library. “I Should Have Known It” is a boot-stomping, heart of Saturday night Mississippi Hill Country number that should have Junior Kimbrough pounding his foot in the grave. “Let Yourself Go,” on the other hand, is greasy and gritty—despite the organ, downright subtly dirty. “U.S. 41” increases Petty’s versatility and explores the rollicking side of country blues—from vocals, to lyrics and muted harmonica, while “First Flash of Freedom” lightly channels vintage Allman Brothers-style blues complete with laidback slide.
The blues is about feeling as much as it is about substance and Petty nails it here. It’s clear that he not only listens to the blues but studies the form. Petty’s raw and open vocals (occasionally of the whiskey-soaked variety) and the band’s impassioned playing create an enticing atmosphere. The album feels loud, upfront and menacing—not typical Petty attributes. Credit his understanding of the genre and ability to make it his own. The album wouldn’t succeed if it wasn’t for Petty’s competence in composing compelling songs—human-interest stories—highlighted by their bluesy forms.
Yet, not everything here is pure blues: “Candy” and “No Reason To Cry,” in particular, speak to Petty’s roots-rock aesthetic. The latter is almost more country with pedal steel, but lyrically cries the blues. What also adds a sense of urgency, authenticity and sweat is that the album was recorded completely live in the studio and most of the cuts here are first takes—not always perfect but thoroughly energized. It’s a change of pace for Petty—and a damn good one.
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