By James Calemine

Mojo counted as Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers first studio album in 8 years. Mojo revolves mostly around the rural south. TP & The Heartbreakers have always represented the straight-up, no-nonsense rock and roll band. In their 30-year career they’ve played many landmark gigs, even served as Dylan’s band and recorded many great albums. Mojo operates as a vehicle to return to the roots of southern-based music for the group from Gainesville, Florida.

Petty said in an interview about Mojo: “We finally made a record worthy of the band, one that makes use of the musicianship. Every rehearsal started with the blues. It’s how we sound after hours. I thought we should stay where we naturally play.”

Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, original bassist Ron Blair, keyboardist Benmont Tench, drummer Steve Ferrone and Scott Thurston on guitars and harp constitute the band’s lineup on this album. Mojo contains a lot of music—15 songs. “Jefferson Jericho Blues”—a gritty blues rocker commences this collection where Petty sings the opening lines: “Thomas Jefferson loved the little maid out back…”

The Petty/Campbell composition—“First Flash of Freedom”—captures traces of Mudcrutch and spacey Allmanesque slide guitars. Make no mistake Mojo is the Mike Campbell show. “Running Man’s Bible” is a juke house tune that casts shadows on the gothic south. “The Trip To Pirates Cove”, in my humble opinion, counts as the album’s weakest track considering the way it fits in with the other songs.

At this point, Mojo gains steam. “Candy” emits a nod and a wink kind of countenance and teasing musical groove where subtle expertise from each musician is evident. Petty blurs what exactly candy he’s singing about, which makes for great open-ended rock and roll interpretation for the listener. “No Reason To Cry”, a pretty tune that contains a country-flavored pedal steel and resonates as a rainproof song.

Now, “I Should Have Known” stands as Mojo’s crown jewel—classic Petty & The Heartbreakers. Co-penned with Campbell, this track ranks as one of the group’s finest—mean-assed, snake-biting guitar riffs and nothing-left-to-lose lyrical sentiment. “US 41” veers towards a Sun Records-Johnny Cash-rockabilly route that undoubtedly proves the Heartbreakers powerful versatility. “Takin’ My Time” evokes Campbell’s incandescent guitar prowess in this red light blues ditty.

“Let Yourself Go” hovers around an Albert King-influenced sound that makes every sparse note count. “High in the Morning”, a toe-tapping rocker, finds Petty singing about temptation told in a riverboat gambler’s vernacular. “Something Good Coming” resembles Petty’s song-craft of old. This tune from Mojo sounds most like his old work.

Mojo’s final track, the remarkable “Good Enough”, was also co-written with Campbell and ends this collection with a thick-as-molasses groove that almost evokes the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy” riff. Petty sings” “She was hell on her mama/Impossible to please/She wore out her daddy/Got the best of me/There’s something about her only I can see/And that’s good enough.” Mojo paints musical stories that capture the glorious ruin of life and time–a great southern motif…Mojo exists as great late night medicine.