Arrow marks the second time in two albums that Erika Wennerstrom has reinvented her band the Heartless Bastards; after the breakup of the lineup that cut Stairs and Elevators and All This Time, Wennerstrom put together a provisional version of the Bastards to record 2009's The Mountain, a relatively introspective set that found her exploring her country and folk influences. It was after The Mountain was released that a proper new Heartless Bastards came together, and Arrow sounds noticeably different than both previous editions of the group. Arrow is a rock & roll album that hits harder and straighter than The Mountain, but this bunch of Bastards -- Wennerstrom on vocals and guitar, Mark Nathan on guitar, Jesse Ebaugh on bass, and Dave Colvin on drums -- summons a more refined racket than the rough, primal roar of the Bastards Mk. 1. This music is a long way from funky, but Ebaugh and Colvin give this band a sinewy groove that was absent in earlier incarnations, and with Nathan on hand there's a level of guitar heroism that was previously unknown to this band.
This group of musicians offers a new range of possibilities to Wennerstrom, and she certainly takes advantage of them, writing lean, Stones-style R&B on "Late in the Night" and "Parted Ways," making with some T.
Rex-influenced boogie on "Got to Have Rock and Roll," kicking out some stoner jams on "Down in the Canyon," and letting the band's richer palette of dynamics take the lead on "Marathon" and "The Arrow Killed the Beast." From a musical standpoint, this is the most accomplished, ambitious, and well-crafted music the Heartless Bastards have created to date, but while this album sounds more polished than their previous work (it's still far from slick), the heart and the soul of this music still lies in Wennerstrom's powerful vocals and evocative songwriting. Without ever overplaying, Wennerstrom's vocals encompass a wide range of emotions, from joy to resignation to a determined vigor, and she tells stories about recognizable characters with the care and sense of detail you'd expect from a good short story. Arrow finds the Heartless Bastards working on a broader and more colorful canvas than they have in the past, but the images are still as honest and haunting as ever, and Arrow is a brave and powerful work from an artist who isn't about to give up on her vision, regardless of where it takes her.
|Marathon / Erika Wennerstrom||Heartless Bastards||6:09|
|Parted Ways / Erika Wennerstrom||Heartless Bastards||4:57|
|Got to Have Rock and Roll / Erika Wennerstrom||Heartless Bastards||3:55|
|Only for You / Erika Wennerstrom||Heartless Bastards||5:08|
|Simple Feeling / Erika Wennerstrom||Heartless Bastards||4:34|
|Skin and Bone / Erika Wennerstrom||Heartless Bastards||3:59|
|The Arrow Killed the Beast / Erika Wennerstrom||Heartless Bastards||6:31|
|Late in the Night / Erika Wennerstrom||Heartless Bastards||3:59|
|Low Low Low / Erika Wennerstrom||Heartless Bastards||5:03|
|Down in the Canyon / Erika Wennerstrom||Heartless Bastards||7:35|