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Heartless Bastards – Arrow

on February 16, 2012, 8:00am

Even way back in 2005, otherwise known as the year that every other riff-happy power trio (see: Wolfmother, Black Mountain, etc.) decided to release their debut, there was something about Heartless Bastards. Maybe it was Erika Wennerstrom’s immense pipes or the equally mighty instrumentation she and her bandmates backed it with, or perhaps it was the simple, compelling tales she spun in that dulcet voice of hers, but something about the group’s 2005 debut Stairs and Elevators marked the trio as quite extraordinary. In 2006, however, the band released a less than stellar second outing – the rather dull, overlong All This Time – which was followed by a shakeup in the band’s lineup and The Mountain, the band’s overwrought third effort steeped in plaintive guitar strums and pedal-steel slides that highlighted a captivating, though previously unheard of, apprehension in Wennerstrom’s voice and songwriting. It moved past nearly everything the band had done so well to that point.

Arrow picks up where that record left off and, while not exactly attempting to meet the band’s early catalog halfway, manages to serve as the most comprehensive and compelling Heartless Bastards release to date. From the start of opener “Marathon”, Wennerstrom sings persistently of “the long way home”, working that impossibly raw voice of hers for all its power as she stretches each syllable to its limit. Where The Mountain found Wennerstrom in the depths of heartbreak, a breakup album in every sense, Arrow catches her and her bandmates on the upswing, singing often of reliving your youth (on the winsome folksy number “Skin and Bone”) and life after love (“Parted Ways”) with renewed fervor. They sound like they’re having a trip along the way too, blasting their way through the well-traveled annals of classic rock as they jam in the respective keys of Sabbath (Arrow‘s mighty closer ”Down in the Canyon”) and T. Rex (“Got To Have Rock And Roll”).

What sets Arrow apart from any other Heartless Bastards release is Wennerstrom’s newfound ease. Where in the past the Heartless Bastards’ music often seemed to come second to Wennerstrom’s huge voice or meandered too long in extended jam sessions, it all flows easier this time around, with the band kicking back and returning to the forefront at all the right points. After her third lineup shuffle in as many albums, Wennerstrom has finally found a perfect counterpoint to her own remarkable voice.

Essential Tracks: “Marathon”, “Parted Ways”, and “Got To Have Rock And Roll”

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