Powerful frontwomen have been alive in rock since Janis Joplin,
Joan Jett, Patti Smith, Exene Cervena of L.A's
X and Heart's Wilson Sisters stormed the gates of
the All Men Rock and Roll Club in the 1960's and 1970's, setting things
in motion for a revolution. Since that time, women have indeed carved
a place for themselves in the grit, but it seems that country [music]
or in the case of The Heartless Bastards, country rock, has
been more accepting of the female of our species.
Thus is the case on The Heartless Bastards latest offering, The
Mountain. The album possesses all the elements that make this
band great: love of country (music), an appreciation of rock's barroom
past, kick in the teeth players, and the ability to rip your heart
out one second and say "oh I didn't mean it, I love you"
the next. Though it would more likely be found in the rock section
of your favorite record store, The Mountain fits nicely in
the subgenre of music where Lucinda Williams is queen. There
is a bell tolling and it tolls for The Heartless Bastards' lead lady
Erika Wennerstrom. The Dayton, Ohio barnburners newest phenomenon,
The Mountain, sets a tone of excellence for not only fem-rockers
but all would-be rock'n'rollers. The lyrical weight of the album puts
her in heady company with the likes of Roseanne Cash, Lucinda
Williams, Liz Phair, Wilco, Mary Chapin Carpenter
and others. Lines like "You're hurting my ears with your endless
speech/ You act like you're sophisticated as you're under the arches/
sitting down as everyone marches" from the record's best (and
fastest tempo) number "Early in the Morning" set the tone
for Wennerstrom's acid-tongued word play.
The Bastards are part of a new generation that revels in pushing
musical bounds and genre classifications and making things that were
once old new again. It is a great time for music and The Heartless
Bastards are one of its most faithful timekeepers. The Mountain
has its peaks and valleys, climbing with numbers like "Could
Be So Happy" and "Hold Your Head High" to laments like
the frustratedly beautiful garage jam of "Out To Sea." Wennerstrom's
"old soul" vocal style gives weight and truth to the album's
superb musical foundations.
The Mountain is an document of challenges both great and small.
All clichés aside, The Heartless Bastards are a band that is
more than capable of moving the Big Indie Rock Mountains.
-Danny R. Phillips
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