Acoustic Sounds

Tom Petty

Mojo

Music

Sound

Produced By: Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, and Ryan Ulyate

Engineered By: Ryan Ulyate

Mixed By: Ryan Ulyate

Mastered By: Chris Bellman

By: Evan Toth

October 20th, 2023

Genre:

Rock Blues Rock

Format:

Vinyl

Capturing the Mojo of Tom Petty

Petty's 2010 Release with The Heartbreakers is Reissued

It makes sense that in 2010 Tom Petty would want to go back to basics. What does a rockstar do when he’s attained the heights that a wistful bedroom troubadour could only dream of? It was time for Tom and the Heartbreakers to tune up the expensive vintage instruments, make some noise in their famed Los Angeles rehearsal studio, “The Clubhouse” and capture the no-frills results. It was a return to their roots, an experiment to make sure the magical mojo was still there, an opportunity for them to play not for arenas full of thousands of adoring fans, but for one another. Sadly, Mojo was the second to last studio album that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would record before Petty’s untimely passing in October of 2017. 

Original copies of the 2010 run of Pallas pressed originals are currently for sale online in the neighborhood of $125.00. The 2017 repress (with seemingly identical dead wax runout info) can be secured for a cool $92.00. Initial pressings in 2010 - and this new reissue - were mastered by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering. Mojo’s 2023 reissue will be released on October 20th and boasts a limited-edition translucent ruby red double-disc vinyl LP pressing (previous releases were all black). 2010 pressings were 180-gram while the two discs with this new version weigh in at 142 and 139 grams respectively.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Mojo Reissued on VinylThe album will also be available in Dolby Atmos, spatial formats, and other streaming services. The digital reissue - pegged Extra Mojo Version - features two unreleased songs: a Sonny Boy Williamson II cover titled “Help Me”, and another track titled, “Mystery of Love”. Mysteriously enough, neither bonus track is available on the new vinyl version, they can only be found on the digital releases. This will no doubt be a disappointment to those hoping to own a unique version of Mojo on vinyl, however, given the real estate of the disc - which was already a two LP set - it makes sense; there’s just nowhere else to squeeze a track in, at least not without altering the original track listing. Perhaps a bonus 7” featuring those two tracks would have been a favorable compromise. 

Three producers worked their mojo on this album: Petty, his right-hand guitar slinger Mike Campbell and Ryan Ulyate who recorded the album and mixed it at both Shoreline Recorders in Malibu and Ryan’s Place which is Ulyate’s private home studio in Topanga Canyon. Perhaps a bit refreshing in this day and age of remastered remasters, it doesn’t appear the album has been remastered for this release. So, while the hand-written and stamped matrix numbers in the deadwax are different from the first two releases, Chris Bellman remains the mastering engineer with “CB” initials in the red wax. 

“Jefferson Jericho Blues” starts the album’s engine with an electrifying and exciting, uptempo blues-rock tune in a style that Dylan might have explored in the mid-60. Lest one believe that the album is all blues riffs in B, the second track on the album immediately reveals that there’s more to the compositional pallet: “First Flash of Freedom” features a Doorsy bass line which snakes along Benmont Tench’s hauntingly tasty Hammond C-3 licks. Side One closes with “Running Man’s Bible” underscoring the open road and foreshadows bad road up ahead of the whole record as Tom drawls:

I don't speak of the times I've nearly died

I don't speak of outlasting those who are gone

Or the things I've done I care not to remember

Or the desperate measures that might have been wrong

Honey here's one to glory, here's to bad weather

And all the hard things we've been through together

Here's to the golden rule and survival

And to staying alive, it's the running man's bible

Now is as good a time as any to hit “pause” on this review, step back a few paces and appreciate that even though Petty’s goal was to record a back-to-basics album featuring the Heartbreakers in jam mode, he - joined by Mike Campbell on three tracks - composed every single song on the album. Petty might have simply chosen to tear up some R&B and blues chestnuts with the Heartbreakers, but instead he wrote the music to fit this project. And fifteen songs worth to boot! 

In the world of professional musicians and bedroom guitar doodlers alike, the musical instruments and equipment employed on Mojo are nothing short of drool-worthy to those who admire such things. In fact, the Heartbreakers’ instrumental arsenal almost play their own role on this project. Petty offers a friendly humble-brag in the liner notes by not only telling listeners the exact year and model of the guitars you’re hearing on each track, but also by describing the instrument’s color! If you weren’t already lusting for those possessions enough, now you can imagine The Clubhouse lights reflecting off of Tom’s 1965 Fender Stratocaster in Fiesta Red. Of course, if you really want to see the mind-boggling collection of vintage instruments and amplifiers that Tom and the Heartbreakers had in their space, you can merely ogle the album’s gatefold picture. Or, to see them in action and add more detail and depth to your understanding of Mojo, view the twelve minute, Sam Jones directed video documentary that is available online.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in The ClubhouseSteve Ferrone’s Arnie Lang Gladstone Custom Snare (see, I told you the liner notes list the band’s gear in great detail) sounds alive, with plenty of three-dimensional snappy snare pop. Ferrone uses this snare on all of the album’s tracks creating a pleasing - almost hypnotic - commonality throughout the record.

In chugs “Candy”, reminiscent of a “Leave My Kitten Alone” song structure which seems like a pretty easy concept; but, you try and write a tribute as fun and satisfying as this one; you’ll find it’s probably easier said than done. Tench’s Wurlitzer adds a warm and funky element to Petty’s tune and creates a satisfying counterpoint to Campbell’s guitar playing that at times - on this number - hearkens Jerry Garcia’s style. A towering guitar riff ignites “I Should Have Known It” which draws from Led Zeppelin, but finds Petty’s trademark vocal whine transitioning into a whisper as he croons, “this the last time you gonna hurt me.” The band here is clearly enjoying themselves as evidenced by Mike Campbell who goes to town on his cranked 1959 Les Paul Sunburst solid body which is complemented by Scott Thurston’s Epiphone Sheraton: if you’re a fan of great guitar sound and interplay, you’ll love this album.

Disc Two, Side One segues the project into a more definitive blues mode. Petty pens a short ode to an American highway on “U.S. 41” presenting a fairly straightforward blues tune with enough creative arrangement to keep the listener’s interest. Adding an interesting sonic element, Tench’s Steinway signal is run through a tremolo effect. John Lee Hooker is channeled on “Takin’ My Time”. Here, the boys jam, but avoid getting myopic; they make sure to get in and get out before things get stale. The blues mode changes with the reggae infused, “Don’t Pull Me Over” reminding this listener of Springsteen’s main character in “State Trooper” who hopes out loud that the nearby police officer won’t turn on those lights. Bruce’s narrator is, however, a much more demonic character than Petty’s. Gargantuan guitars bring the album to an end on “Good Enough” which may remind some listeners of The Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy” 

My copy of Disc One is virtually noise-free, flat, and well-centered with no disruptive pops or clicks. Disc Two has a minor warp which unfortunately led to some noise on Side Four, particularly on the quieter track, “Something Good Coming”.  Both discs sport nifty vintage style “steamboat” Reprise graphics on the labels. The albums themselves are housed in plain paper sleeves with an insert containing liner notes and lyrics. The original release was mastered from “uncompressed 24-bit 48 Khz files” and I have been provided with no information to assume that this release was sourced from anything different. The album sounds good: it’s wide and spacious with plenty of rock and roll umph; it sounds as if it were recorded in a large rehearsal studio which it was; this suits the project’s goal. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Mojo Reissued on VinylThe last time Petty released a proper album with the Heartbreakers before 2010’s Mojo was 2002’s The Last DJ. So, there was close to a decade of time to make up for. The fellas wanted to reconnect, to have fun, to keep things simple and straightforward, to pay homage to some of their heroes and to enjoy the beautiful guitars and amps that their previous successes had afforded them. And they had every right to do those things. At fifteen tracks, it’s certainly arguable that some of the album’s tracks could have stayed on the cutting room floor (only to probably end up as part of an expanded reissue). In an alternate universe, that might have been the story, but Petty and his loyal band chose a different route. 

There’s no denying also that the album carries a different weight in the posthumously Petty world we inhabit. It hits a little different, as the kids are apt to say. Cryptic messages and darkness sneak in here and there haunting the album’s lyrics and reveal an element of desperation or yearning; some weird foreshadowing of the clouds which were preparing to form in the not too distant future. 

When Mojo was originally released, Ian Gormely of the now defunct ChartAttack reviewed the album saying, “This is a record destined to be a cult hit 10 years from now, recognized as the band's most expansive and sonically adventurous disc. But expectations for Petty and his band are incredibly high, and from a contemporary standpoint, it comes off as lacking memorable hooks and choruses, something we all expect these guys to pull off in their sleep.” So, here we are - nearly 14 years later - and we can see that Gormely’s prophecy was sorta kinda prescient.

Petty and Co. may not have crafted an album containing a plethora of pop-radio hooks and surgically precise choruses for Mojo, but the point is right there in the title. Petty didn’t drive down the King’s Highway looking for a hit in 2010; he already did that and he could now do whatever he liked, and this is what he did. Like any good blues or jam album, this album’s focus is on the feel, the sound, the playing, the players, the musical attributes that are hard to describe; it’s about the mojo.

Music Specifications

Label: Reprise

Catalog No: 093624852698

SPARS Code: AAA

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Multi LP

Comments

  • 2023-10-20 02:37:04 PM

    Brian R. wrote:

    Nice review. But, it would have been useful if you'd compared the different releases to each other.

    • 2023-10-21 12:05:15 PM

      Evan Toth wrote:

      Yes, certainly in a perfect world that would be ideal! Believe me, I wish I had an original pressing; I'd love to compare. However, it's also valuable for each pressing to stand on its own, as well.

  • 2023-10-20 02:40:51 PM

    Buzz wrote:

    My original mojo sounds 10/10 and was beautifully pressed. Dead Silent clear and powerful. I think the music is easily 9/10, it’s the only Petty Album that has stuck with me over the years. It’s their finest effort.

    • 2023-10-21 12:06:38 PM

      Evan Toth wrote:

      As I mentioned above, I wish I had an original pressing to compare the new one with, you're lucky to have one. Copies from 2010 aren't easy to find. It's a great album.

    • 2023-10-29 03:29:21 PM

      Kevin J. Stoll wrote:

      I agree. This album is a 9/10. It to has stuck with me over the years. Something good coming really sticks with me. The lyrics are so true and profound. It definitely is in my top 5 Petty tunes. Just wish we could have gotten one or two more in this style from the captain and his crew. Peace and love......