Music Reviews
4:04 pm
Tue February 28, 2012

Heartless Bastards: Rousing Songs, Born On The Road

Originally published on Thu March 1, 2012 3:00 pm

It's true that you can still get by in rock 'n' roll on the strength of a unique voice. But it helps if said voice has something interesting to work with.

On the first three records by Heartless Bastards, that wasn't always the case. The Mountain, from 2008, had some terrific songs about a breakup, and a few that got bogged down in a rut. But on the band's latest release, Arrow, every song has a powerful, almost magnetic melody.

Singer Erika Wennerstrom has this way of transforming ordinary words into majestic creations. She lingers over her phrases, elongating syllables, bending and twisting them until you wonder if she could possibly sing them the same way twice. There are times when it sounds like she's caught the essence of rock 'n' roll in a bottle — or she's channeling Jim Morrison.

The new Heartless Bastards album is the product of a sojourn. When she began work on it, Wennerstrom says, she struggled to focus. So she hit the road, heading out from her home in Austin, Texas, on long drives to upstate New York and the Pacific Northwest. She spent some days alone and some visiting friends, and the melodies came to her while she was driving. She says she knew they were keepers when she got back in the car and could still remember them.

There's a pronounced restlessness running through Wennerstrom's new songs. And it's not just in the words; it's there magnified in her rough, rousing vocals. It sounds like the road, with all its wear and tear, and it suits her.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTED WAYS")

HEARTLESS BASTARDS: (Singing) And the wind, it blows through the atmosphere and the air is filled with dust. Such a far collection within every direction to places I've already been.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

That's a track off the new album from the band Heartless Bastards. Our critic, Tom Moon, says it may be the group's fourth effort, but it's the first album to fully capture the voice of lead singer Erika Wennerstrom.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: It's true - you can still get by in rock and roll just on the strength of a great voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTED WAYS")

BASTARDS: (Singing) Out in the space, I'm alone with the only hum of the wheels. They are carrying me home to the...

MOON: It usually helps if said voice has something interesting to work with. And, on the three previous records by Heartless Bastards, that wasn't always the case. This time, every song comes with a powerful, almost magnetic, melody.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOW LOW LOW")

BASTARDS: (Singing) (Unintelligible) ease the pain (unintelligible) where you'll never be the one to (unintelligible) low.

MOON: Singer Erika Wennerstrom has this way of transforming ordinary words into majestic creations. She lingers over some of her phrases, elongating syllables, bending and twisting them until you wonder if she could possibly string them the same way twice. There are times when it sounds like she's caught the essence of rock and roll in a bottle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOT TO HAVE ROCK AND ROLL")

BASTARDS: (Singing) I know whenever you're feeling down, well, you got to have - got to have - you got to have rock and roll.

MOON: This new Heartless Bastards album is the product of a sojourn. Wennerstrom says that, when she began work on it, she struggled to focus, so she hit the road, heading out from her home in Austin, Texas on long drives to upstate New York and the Pacific Northwest. These melodies came to her while she was driving. She knew they were keepers when she got back in the car and could remember them hours later.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONLY FOR YOU")

BASTARDS: (Singing) It's been a while since I felt this way about someone. I'd really, really like to know you. More I know you, more, all your eyes sing a song to me and I really, really like to move to it. Oh, I do. Oh...

MOON: There's a profound restlessness running through these new Heartless Bastards songs and it's not just in the words. It's there, magnified in Winnerstrom's rough, rousing vocals. It sounds like the road, with all its wear and tear, suits her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONLY FOR YOU")

CORNISH: The new album from Heartless Bastards is called "Arrow." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONLY FOR YOU")

BASTARDS: (Singing) All your eyes are spinning 'round my head and (unintelligible). All your eyes are spinning... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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