Does anyone realize that real authentic folk is vast rarity in nowadays? If you drive for a few days out on I-70 West you’ll find yourself somewhere in Colorado, and things will look quite similar to how they do here on the East Coast. There will be cars, people, houses, and department stores. It seems to me that we have a lot of folk music and not so much folk living, and maybe that’s why it seems so synthetic when Heartless Bastards experiment with the all too popular genre. Especially when it’s so clear that they should stick to blues.
Like our continent’s scenery, blues is something that does not change all that much. People still need grocery stores; the blues still needs guitars. Heartless Bastards know everything else that is necessary to play the blues,and they do it well. However, I fear that their third release on Fat Possum Records, The Mountain, is one with multiple personalities disorder. On one hand we have the same old, if not slightly streamlined, Heartless Bastards. They still know how to rock, and Erika Wennerstrom still has her magnificent voice, pats on the back all around. On the other hand, touring may have warped the minds of Heartless Bastards to aim for something utterly uncalled for: a folk band.
The Mountain starts off promisingly enough, with a crunchy-ass guitar introducing you to the smoky sights of title track “The Mountain.” I imagine a dirty Midwestern bar with 4-day-old trash on the floor and so much smoke that you can’t see any of the walls. And it’s good, the tempo acts as if it’s moving slower and slower every second; the steel guitars roll around like beer bottles being passed across the bar. But don’t get too excited, because Heartless Bastards will switch it up on you in a second. Right on the heels of “The Mountain,” we’re given the flawed “Could Be So Happy.” A little acoustic ditty too unoriginal to be viewed as any sort of experiment, too poorly executed to be viewed as folk nostalgia.
But wait! Heartless Bastards are prepared to rock us still! Tracks like “Early In The Morning” show us Heartless Bastards with the usual rockin’ tendencies. In fact, their multiple personalities disorder keeps quiet until the second half of the record, where it brings the album’s progress to a dead halt.
Erika Wennerstrom has herself a fine voice, and with the company of the rest of Heartless Bastards, it can realize its full potential. However, on imperfect banjo-themed tracks like “Had to Go,” her vocals come out in full force but lack something. Erika’s vocals alone can’t do the job; they need motivation, and a spider web of banjos and fiddles is just too delicate to get the job done.
Don’t worry, it’s smooth sailing from “Had to Go.” In fact, album closer, “Sway,” is a personal favorite. Cheery guitars open the floor for Ms. Wennerstrom to fiddle around with her vocals. While her voice may have as many options as a light switch, it’s effective and seldom irritates. It makes you realize that blues bands need to exist. People can always appreciate the old values and simplicity of a blues-rock band. They’re not there to reinvent, but rather to entertain. And I think that, a few low points aside, Heartless Bastards do a decent job at entertaining.
Label: Fat Possum Records
Release Date: Feb 3, 2009
- The Mountain
- Be So Happy
- Early in the Morning
- Hold Your Head High
- Out At Sea
- Nothing Seems the Same
- Wide Awake
- So Quiet
- Had To Go
- Witchy Poo
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