Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have taken their recent freedom and experimentation to heart. This is the sound of a band playing together in a room, not a studio - facing each other, all singing and playing at the same time. The music is alive, with no overdubs or studio trickery. What you hear is what they created on the spot at that time.
For more about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Mojo and the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Mojo Blu-ray release, see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Mojo Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 25, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Mojo Blu-ray Review
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are back after a long absence. Do they still have their 'Mojo'?
In the world of popular music, whether or not that music be rock influenced, there are two kinds of "mojo" that matter: artistic integrity (with its attendant creativity) and sales. For better or worse, that second type usually trumps the first, unless you're talking about an artist so incredibly iconic that a record label will keep him or her around for at least a little while despite disappointing Soundscan returns. I'm not sure if Tom Petty rises to quite those iconic heights, despite an unusually long and successful run at or near the top of the rock and blues hierarchy, but he needn't worry in any case. His latest album, and his first with the Heartbreakers in almost a decade, has burst out of the gates and landed at an impressive Number 2 on the national charts in its first week on retail and online shelves. It is in fact Petty's highest charting album ever with the Heartbreakers and augurs well for this latest chapter in Petty's musical life, one that has seen its share of ups and downs. As to that primary kind of mojo mentioned above, the results are a little less clear. Parts of Mojo are as inviting, interesting and, at times, bombastic as anything Petty has released, but my hunch is the overall album may be a bit too much on the introspective side for some Petty fans. To them I say, listen again, this is an album whose charms grow with familiarity, and Petty's artistic mojo is most definitely there, if starting to mellow a bit with age.
Though Petty has gone on record (no pun intended) saying an early childhood meeting with Elvis Presley moved him in the direction of a professional music career, the man really has less of the Presley swagger and more of the Bob Dylan poetic touch than he is often credited for. Petty first gained fame in the mid- to late 1970's, thankfully before video killed the radio star. Petty's less than glamorous looks may have consigned him to a rock fate worse than death had he come along even a few years later during the nascent years of MTV. One thing that always set Petty apart was his iconoclastic reaction to the powers that be in the record industry, pretty much telling them from the get-go that he was in charge of his music, not some accountant totaling units sold. That has made Petty one of the more unique voices in contemporary rock and blues, not only with The Heartbreakers, but in his solo work and with The Traveling Wilburys.
Mojo, released on CD last week and now making its lossless audio Blu-ray review, offers 15 tunes that run the gamut from riff based jump blues ("Jefferson Jericho Blues") to a quasi-Steve Miller Band sound ("Candy") to country-inflected pop ("No Reason to Cry," which offers perhaps the best Dylanesque vocal yet from Petty) to harder rocking tunes built around unison riffs ("I Should Have Known It"). Petty and his longtime compatriots Mike Campbell on guitars, Benmont Tench on keys, Ron Blair on bass, Scott Thurston on rhythm guitar and Steve Ferrone on drums, decided to record Mojo with none of the ProTools bells and whistles that have become de rigeur in modern recordings. The band simply showed up, not even having cut any demos, stood in a circle facing each other, and started playing as the tape—well, probably the hard drive—started "rolling." The results are a somewhat looser, less produced sound than some of Petty's earlier outings, but there's also a spark of spontaneity that can only be caught by musicians not knowing exactly what's going to happen next.
If the album on the whole is a good deal quieter than many are probably expecting, it also reveals Petty stretching out beyond basic blues changes and lyrically finding a newly mature voice. While there's fun to be had in such proto-Reggae nonsense as "Don't Pull Me Over," my two favorite tunes on the album are both in triple meter (itself kind of unusual for a lot of rock), "Something Good Coming," which like "U.S. 41" features Petty on an appealing acoustic guitar, and especially "First Flash of Freedom," a really pretty Carole King-esque tune that exploits some great minor 9th sounds in a sort of early 1970's setting. But virtually all of these songs have enough layers that they invite the listener in, whether that be the nice Rhodes patch on "Trip to Pirate's Cove" or Tench's equally fine organ work on "Let Yourself Go." Frankly, there's not a lot here that is going to grab the listener by the collar and insist they pay attention, but that's part of the lower key charm of Mojo. Artists who know they have the magic usually aren't as insistent that you pay them complete heed, and that seems to be the case here with Petty and his band. The mojo is most definitely there, but it may take a time or two of repeated listening to fully reveal itself.
Those of you who have read some of my reviews of "highbrow" classical music releases know that I have been a somewhat ambivalent convert to the world of audio Blu-ray. SACD, anyone? Or, heaven forfend, Quadrophonic, if you're old enough to remember that one? But I've slowly begun to see (or hear, as the case may be) the light, and have really started to enjoy popping in lossless surround sound audio only discs in my PS3, cranking my Onkyo up to "11" and sitting in the middle of a completely immersive audio experience. Kudos then to Warner and Petty for trying to expand audio Blu-ray's reach into the pop and rock market. Mojo is presented with two lossless options, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and an LPCM 2.0. Results here are mostly (mostly) superlative, with excellently discrete separation and unmatched fidelity. You'll be able to hear Campbell's solo in the left channels, with Petty's rhythm work on the right, and the rhythm section itself bringing up the rear (so to speak) in several of these tunes. Petty's voice, while anchored in the front three channels, spills into the surrounds so that if you sit in the middle of your soundfield, it actually sounds like it's floating above your head. I do have a couple of picayune qualms with this release, however. As strange as it may sound, the front channels seemed anemic at times, at least compared to the side and rear surrounds, and I was especially surprised at how low Ron Blair's bass was mixed (particularly odd for lossless audio, where low end can be so overwhelmingly robust). I personally would have liked a little more lossless crackle and thump to the proceedings, especially in barn burners like "I Should Have Known It." Several of these tunes do feature unison riffs, which makes the surround sound moot in a way, but the more delicately layered tunes, like my favorite "First Flush of Freedom," invite the listener into the instrumental mix and offer a wealth of rewards for the patient listener.
There are no supplements per se, but I thought I'd use this section to discuss the menu options on the disc. After the Mojo logo appears, the album's track listing shows up on the left of the screen while your two audio options are "tickable" on the right (you can always toggle between them with the audio button on your remote). You can either Play All, enjoying the album's 15 songs one after the other, or toggle through them and select them individually. Once a song starts playing, a screensaver with the Mojo logo pops up in various locations on the screen.
'Mojo' may not knock your socks off right away, but it's one of those albums that grows on you. With everything from Delta blues with phase-shifted vocals to outright California (or maybe Florida, considering Petty's genesis in Gainesville) pop, there's something here for everyone. This audio Blu-ray may not completely exploit surround sound technology to its fullest extreme, but it offers an up close and personal way for fans to almost literally get inside Petty's music. May it be the first of many such releases to come.
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The latest album by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Mojo, will be released on June 29 on audio Blu-ray, two weeks after the CD. The BD will contain all 15 tracks from Mojo in high-resolution stereo LPCM (at 24 bits and 48kHz), and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. ...
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