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(Guest) Album Review: The Heartless Bastards

January 21, 2010

I was working on a mighty grump, in spite of the midday Jimmy John’s and bourbon.  We had earlier made the decision to skip Day 3 of the ACL Festival 2009 because of the mud/sewage situation and were settled in on the couch with AGMG’s laptop patched into the TV.  It was quite fortuitous that Hulu was not only streaming live performances from the Festival, but also most of the performances that we wanted to see.  It was sort of like having the Festival in our living room, and that combined with my phat Italian sub and whiskey on the rocks had me starting to feel a little better.

It was still early in the day and I was up and about in the kitchen fixing another round of drinks (fortunately not $8 festival beers) when my ear was caught by the band on stage.  I began to tap my foot against my will.  “What is this?” I thought to myself.  “Am I biting my lower lip as if I’m the one shredding badass riffs?”  I looked into the living room and saw the source of this good vibration.  AGMG informed me it was the Heartless Bastards, and I was instantly enthralled with their performance – especially with Erika Wennerstrom, the heart and soul of the Heartless Bastards.

Alright, let’s get the quick history out of the way.  The Heartless Bastards formed in Ohio a few years back, cut a couple of albums, and then regrouped and relocated to Austin, Texas with a new lineup and new album, The Mountain.  Legend has it that Wennerstrom got inspiration for their name during quiz night at a bar.  The question was the name of Tom Petty’s band, and “The Heartless Bastards” was one of the answers.

Now, I am woefully unqualified to write a proper album review.  I analyze music with the depth of a wading pool, looking no further than how music makes me feel.  I like what I like, and don’t like what I don’t like, and I think AGMG asked me to write this review for that very reason – The Mountain hooked me from my very first listen, and didn‘t let me go.

It’s all about Erika – an incredible font of vocal and lyrical luster.  Her voice is power and vulnerability, heartache and blues.  She is American rock and roll to her very core, and is the vehicle in which the Heartless Bastards have arrived.  The Mountain showcases the rich texture of her voice and the prowess of a budding songwriter still finding her place in the world.  The songs on the album cover all the usual suspects – love lost, friendship found, and the general wayward rambling of an angst-filled spirit – but Wennerstrom manages to sound unique and original.

The rest of the review, after the jump!

The album hooks you right from the beginning with its title track “The Mountain”.  It’s three chords the whole time, banged out on an electric guitar over a simple drum beat – appealing in its simplicity.  Then comes Wennerstrom’s haunting vocals, a crescendo to a passionate delivery:

Spilled blood on this place
It only echoes through all through the days
And so you peak into the mountain
Where your desire goes

Wennerstrom’s complete control over her voice and lyrical delivery, effortlessly drawing out words and syllables to accentuate the band’s melodies, work to such amazing ends that she becomes an instrument unto herself.  She has the soul of Janis and the rock grit of Joan Jett, but those comparisons serve only as an attempt to illustrate her skill – she is a rock talent all her own.  She harmonizes with herself to chilling effect on the track “Be So Happy”, then switches over to a driving, powerhouse delivery on “Early in the Morning” before you have a chance to recover.

The rock world isn’t replete with female leads that write their own songs, sing with soul, and that don’t totally suck, so it’s a real treat when you find one like Erika Wennerstrom.  Her presence makes the Heartless Bastards a great band, not just a great band fronted by a woman.  As Peter Funk put it when he reviewed an earlier of their albums:

It’s not just that they rock, it’s that you believe what you hear, that they love the sound they make, that Wennerstrom lays her soul bare in her lyrics without sounding like Sarah McLachlan, that the women of rock who labored to make it OK for a girl to dream of playing guitar deserve far better than Avril Lavigne or Kelly Osbourne as their descendants.

It’d be futile to hide the fact that I have just the tiniest crush on Erika Wennerstrom, but it’s because she’s such a badass that I do.  The Mountain is definitely worth owning, and in my case, listening to in heavy rotation.  I have the strong feeling that Wennerstrom and the Heartless Bastards are going to be around for a long, long time.

Thanks to Austin Girl Music Guide for allowing me to write this guest review!  You can read more about me on my blog, Seanningham.

**Sean is the Executive Producer of the Austin-based interactive television/internet hybrid show Docubloggers.  He is also a freelance producer, editor, and new media pro.**

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2010 2:51 am

    Love this post! Thanks for this. Ill be sure to come back again. P.S: Ive bookmark your site as well


  1. My Guest Review for AGMG: The Heartless Bastards «
  2. Tiniest Girl In The World

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