On last year’s box set, The Live Anthology, Tom Petty included fiery covers of blues-rock classics like Them’s “Mystic Eyes” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” between rare originals like “Melinda” and “Drivin’ Down To Georgia,” which also showcased The Heartbreakers’ jam-band side. Throw in Petty’s 2008 reunion with his early-’70s roots-rock outfit Mudcrutch, and it’s clear that the man behind some of the most memorable pop singles of the last three decades has all but given up trying to feed the fickle Top 40 market, and has decided to spend his dotage getting his groove on. The new Heartbreakers album Mojo extends the trend, offering an hour of back-to-basics rock steeped in the traditions of folk, blues, and country (and on the wincingly goofy “Don’t Pull Me Over,” a little reggae too).
Petty is a talented enough fellow to make even the most routine roots-music exercise sound lively and deeply felt—especially with Mike Campbell pumping out clean-burning guitar solos beside him—but while Mojo is amiable enough, it rarely sounds vital. Songs like “Candy” and “Jefferson Jericho Blues” are so simple and derivative that they’re more like the kind of throat-clearing a veteran band might do at soundcheck, not something that needed to be recorded for posterity. Mojo features a few very good tracks (in particular, the wonderfully moody “The Trip To Pirate’s Cove” and the stomping “I Should Have Known It”), but only one new classic: “First Flash Of Freedom,” a hazy, exploratory hippie jam that has its head in the past, but still sounds like it’s going somewhere.