Unbiased reviews of new vinyl releases, audiophile reissues, and more

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Mojo -- 180 gram Vinyl (w/bonus hi-res download)

When I saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform live last month--and they played a half-dozen cuts from their new record, Mojo, I wasn't quite sure how to react.  Mojo certainly doesn't contain the jangly pop we've all gotten used to hearing from TP over the past thirty years. Instead, guitar-driven, bluesy--even progressive, are what come to mind when listening to Mojo--with songs like First Flash of Freedom, evoking the Allman Brothers, and even Led Zeppelin--rather than the Byrds and Bob Dylan.

The Packaging
The Mojo vinyl package consists of a gatefold cover made of medium-heavy cardstock, two slabs of 180 gram vinyl pressed at the Pallas facility in Germany, which is housed in their own poly-lined paper sleeves, and an insert with credits and song lyrics. Also included as a "bonus" with the vinyl package is a code enabling a free download of either an uncompressed 24/28 FLAC, Apple Lossless file, or 320 kbps MP3 of the album. Chris Bellman, of Bernie Grundman Mastering is credited with mastering the vinyl from a 24/48 hi-res digital recording provided by recording engineer, Ryan Ulyate.

Longtime Heartbreaker and Petty collaborator, Mike Campbell is serious about guitar tone. Guitar players take note:  Both during the live shows, as well as during the recording of this album, Mike Campbell wields his recently acquired 1959 Gibson Les Paul. And to get the purest tone from his instrument, he favors small vintage amps.  One quick look around--and vintage Fender amplifiers, such as Princetons and tweed-era Deluxes can be seen lining the stage behind him.

The Sound

Chris Bellman, who has become one of the preeminent vinyl mastering engineers today, is aided by an obviously well-recorded album.  Mojo carries a full, warm sound that is well-balanced, but  particularly good at showcasing the creamy mids of the PAF Humbuckers in Campbell's Les Paul. Petty has made a point in recent interviews, of stating that the vinyl was mastered with a full dynamic range that might make it sound quieter than the standard cd version of the album. While not quite as dynamic as his 2008, lighter-sounding Mudcrutch record, Mojo is certainly more dynamic than a great majority of the electric guitar-driven rock albums currently being released. Audiophiles and fans of good sounding music can only hope that other acts follow suit by restoring the dynamic range (that can make rock music so exciting) back to their new releases.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (2010)

The Music
Despite receiving a writing credit on only three of the album's cuts, this is definitely Mike Campbell's record. There is a strong electric blues guitar influence running throughout the record, with cuts like, I Should Have Known It, featuring a huge sounding Les Paul from Campbell. Yet, there are a few moments where TP and company depart from that blues flavor--the pedal steel driven, No Reason to Cry, features a very prominent Bob Dylan influence. And in what must be a first for Petty, he and the Heartbreakers even engage in one reggae-inspired cut, Don't Pull Me Over. Of course, every song on this two-record set doesn't work perfectly--Takin My Time, for example, features tasty Claptonesque guitar, but suffers from an uninspired vocal from Petty.

Years from now, Mojo will likely be best remembered for the epic, First Flash of Freedom. If you loved Crystal River from the Mudcrutch album, you'll equally love First Flash of Freedom.  While some of its tracks don't go down quite as easy live--especially if you've been waiting all night to hear Even the Losers, Mojo works very well as an album and is definitely one that grows on you.


Related:  Best  of 2008 Vinyl Releases:  Mudcrutch--S/T, Mudcrutch Live!


Anonymous said...

Mojo was great. I hope tom petty makes another
album sometime soon.

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