On February 16th, The Heartless Bastards return to Ohio to showcase Arrow, their newest album.The first thing becomes apparent listening to Arrow is that the swamp which permeated The Heartless Bastards’ last three albums has been replaced with the open road. Beginning with the lilting guitar strums of the opening track, “Mountain,” and ending with the Black Sabbath as if led by Neil Young closing track “Down in the Canony,” Erika Wennerstrom and her band mates (drummer Dave Colvin, bassist Jesse Ebagh and guitarist Mark Nathan) take the listener through what feels like a two day early summer road trip through the southwest. There’s the mid-day dusty shuffle of the single “Parted Ways” with it’s two guitar solos and hand clap stomp beat. Then there are the rockers like the glammed up “Got to Have Rock and Roll” or the Stonesy “Late in the Night” that are made to be listened with the top down. The quieter moments of “Low Low Low” and “Skin and Bone” feel like songs made for those early mornings after a night of too much whiskey. Benefiting the most out this warmer sound is Wennerstrom’s vocals. Anyone who has heard her sing knows of the strength and power in her voice. With the music opened up in this record, you can hear that frailty or tenderness that was underneath the power vocals. This is most evident in the track “Only for You” where Wennerstrom pushes voice into her higher register to the point of almost failing. Those moments in her voice show up throughout the album and enhance her broken hearted confessionals. In the end, The Heartless Bastards along with producer Jim Eno (Spoon) have crafted a classic rock road record that feels comfortable but never imitative.That’s brings us to Thursday night where The Heartless Bastards will play The Basement. Having seen them play quite a few times, I can’t recommend this show enough. Prepared to be roped in by Erika’s easy going warmth and amazing voice. She has also gathered together, what is in this writer’s opinion, the best version of The Heartless Bastards yet. Moving to a four piece, with the addition of guitarist Mark Nathan, has expanded the sound of The Heartless Bastards live, and feels almost needed for this record. I personally can’t wait to see them perform these new songs live and Neither should you.
Arrow is (cleverly) available on Valentine’s day on Partisan records and can be purchased on iTunes , Amazon or in person when they take the stage at the Basement on February 16th with opening act Hacienda. Doors open at 8pm and tickets are $15.
Bradford Iten/Columbus Wired