Heartless Bastards, The Mountain

Heartless Bastards, The Mountain

The Heartless Bastards’ third album, The Mountain, is a return of sorts for Erika Wennerstrom, the leader of the band. After breaking up with the bass player, the previous lineup dissolved, and she replaced them with the people that performed on the Bastards’ original demo. It doesn’t affect the sound of the band, however — the core is Wennerstrom’s guitar and vocals, which are still intact.

The album is full of great songs, full of Wennerstrom’s usual dark songs with a few rays of light breaking through. “The Mountain” is a driving mid-tempo anthem set off by a nice pedal steel part. “Hold Your Head High,” a slower-moving song, combines a countrified feel with her standard rock style in an unusual way. And the album closes with a beautiful, upbeat rocker, “Sway,” which features a graceful melody and vocals and the band churning behind her. The band’s accompaniment never gets in the way of her melody and guitar pounding, remaining as professional as they need to be but still bringing the rock.

In some ways, the quieter songs are the most interesting ones here. Her voice is even more impressive and distinctive when she restrains it, taking on an ethereal quality. And those are some of the best songs here, too. “Had To Go” is a striking acoustic ballad with pretty, bluegrassy violin and mandolin contrasting with the sturdy folky melody. And “Could Be So Happy” is a fragile-yet-determined solo acoustic number accompanied by only her pretty harmonies.

The Mountain is the Heartless Bastards’ best yet. It’s full of great songs and impassioned vocals. Wennerstrom’s voice also helps — it’s one of the more unusual in rock, big like Robert Plant but with the wistfulness of a folk singer. That might seem like an odd combination, but she really uses it well, never oversinging like most people with her range and vocal talent would. Her taste and vocal style will continue to bring the Heartless Bastards more attention, and they deserve everything they get.

[Heartless Bastards are playing 6/24/09 at Warehouse Live, along with Jenny Lewis.]
(Fat Possum Records -- P.O. Box 1923, Oxford, MS. 38655; http://www.fatpossum.com/; Heartless Bastards -- http://www.myspace.com/heartlessbastards)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Saturday, June 20th, 2009. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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