Release Date: Feb 3, 2009
Record label: Fat Possum
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Ohio trio scales the heightsErika Wennerstrom's enormous voice typically dominates discussion of this Ohio trio, and for good reason. Hers is a mighty blues holler, projecting self-conflict not just to the rafters, but to the rafters in other states. As distinctive as Wennerstrom sounds, however, her confident guitar work and the tight rhythm section of Mike Lamping and Kevin Vaughn do just as much to color these songs.
In spite of its titular stability, if the Heartless Bastards’ new album, The Mountain, has any single motif, it’s relocation. Where their two previous releases reflect the industrial harshness of their Midwest base, the rootsy ethos of the band’s new geographic locus—Austin, Texas—are a fresh presence on this album. Lead Bastard Erika Wennerstrom has gone “over the hill .
The third album from this inaccurately named Austin trio opens with its title track, an epic slab of country-grunge that beautifully showcases the soulful, weathered vocals of frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom. And there are plenty of other peaks as well, such as the lilting folk number ”So Quiet” and the defiant ”Hold Your Head High,” on which Wennerstrom sings about how friends can help get you through the bad times. The Mountain is the kind of album that just might be able to perform a similar service.
After cutting their first two albums as a lean but muscular power trio, the Heartless Bastards have grown into a somewhat different creature on their third LP, The Mountain. Vocalist and guitarist Erika Wennerstrom is the only survivor from the group's original lineup, and after leaving behind her hometown of Cincinnati, OH for Austin, TX, she's assembled a new version of the Heartless Bastards. Along with new members Billy White on bass and Doni Schroader on drums, The Mountain features violins, pedal steel guitar, mandolin, and banjo as well as a few guest guitarists, and though this music is still rooted in Wennerstrom's full-bodied vocals and thick, no-frills guitar work, The Mountain is a more introspective and rootsy sounding album than this group has released to date.
If you think the regional influence on indie rock has waned with the Internet, imagine an act like Heartless Bastards emerging anywhere else but Ohio. If Erika Wennerstorm was a Brooklynite instead of a Midwesterner, her hard blues rootsy rock would probably be seen as fake. (This problem has never affected Jeff Tweedy, who is from a similar metropolis but one that happens to be more conveniently located on the map.) Yet in the Heartland, Heartless Bastards has enough clout to never have its legitimacy questioned.
As static markers in time, records are only imperfect measures of a band’s current constitution. Case in point, the Heartless Bastards, whose evolving history has already outdistanced the signpost of their third album, The Mountain. Head Bastard Erika Wennerstrom took some radical cosmetic steps during its 2007 recording sessions that ultimately don’t yield the sorts of dividends they promise.