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Shot through the heart with ‘Arrow’

Courtney Eckerle | Monday, February 20, 2012

Heartless Bastards truly lived up to its name by releasing its new album “Arrow” on Valentine’s Day. Hailing from Austin, Texas, the band is fronted by lead singer Erika Wennerstrom. The group got its name from a pub trivia game asking what the name of Tom Petty’s band was (The Heartbreakers), and one of the wrong options was “The Heartless Bastards”. While its name might have started from a joke, the band has proved it’s not, as “Arrow” serves as another great addition to the band’s stellar rock discography.

It’s a rare and wonderful thing for a band to have a front-woman with such a commanding voice, and Wennerstrom’s vocals are stunning ⎯ the only current comparable setup is The Alabama Shakes.

The band’s producer on this venture, Jim Eno of Spoon, showcases Wennerstrom’s voice while also focusing on the guitar and rhythm. The result is a powerhouse pairing that can hold its own next to her voice, as well as some time for jamming.

In true write-what-you-know fashion, “Arrow” is an album about traveling and journeys. In “Marathon,” the six minute album-opener uses a race as a metaphor for life, asserting that life is a “long race home.”

While not a unique concept at all, the arrangement of the song laced with Wennerstrom’s coarse velvety voice makes it human and heart wrenching. The song’s unusual pairing of unobtrusive and powerful makes “Marathon” a track to watch out for as a complement to a scene in a movie.

“Parted Ways” continues along the same vein, but with a kick: “I just don’t see things the same way now / since we parted ways … The hum of the wheels they are carrying me home.” The Texan influence on the band shows with the pleading, “I need a little bit of whiskey and a little bit of time to ease my troubled mind.”

“Gotta Have Rock and Roll” leans on electric guitar pulses and percussion to get its engine revving, while “Simple Feeling” starts off as an intense clash of guitar and percussion, with Wennerstrom’s voice floating overhead.

“Only for You” shows off Wennerstrom’s range by mixing gorgeous high notes and her signature deeply broad, musky tone. It’s the perfect song for meeting eyes over a crowded bar with the opening line, “Been a while since I’ve felt this way about someone / that really really like to know you / All your eyes sing the song to me.”

“Skin and Bone” is one of the stand out tracks, a bittersweet rock song about hometown blues. With lyrics, “dilapidated buildings … At least my town is coming down and is hard for me to stay.”

“Late in the Night” is all the things a good rock ‘n roll song should be attitude mixed with killer electric guitar and drums. “Low Low Low” mixes it up with guitar-picking, Mississippi John-Hurt style and a down home feeling with broad, honest vocal acoustics.

Hailing from Ohio, Wennerstrom has a blues-rock sound that seamlessly and impressively melds with the country and folk influence of the band’s Texan base. Heartless Bastards is really anything but its namesake, and “Arrow” simply channels all the complexities of human longing and wandering, resulting in what might be the group’s strongest project yet.

Contact Courtney Eckerle at [email protected]

3.5 out of 4 Shamrocks

Best tracks: “Only for You,” “Skin and Bone” and “Gotta Have Rock and Roll”