FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2009|
Best bar band in America: For the last few years, that title has fallen squarely in the court of the mighty Hold Steady. But is their vibe truly that of the dive's? Does Craig Finn's nerdy banter really resemble the rough and tumble demeanor of the average bar keep? Is the spirit of the crazy man muttering to himself in the corner alive and well in an album called Stay Positive? If by chance the band fails to tap into the kind of tunes that send the perfume of stale beer and even staler piss drifting by your nose, Dayton OH's Heartless Bastards are here for you. One listen to their third LP The Mountain will plop you right down on the ripped, worn, and warm bar stool of the mind's eye.
Fronted by a siren of a singer, Erika Wennerstrom's vocal performance is an absolute revelation. Simply put, The Mountain plays like a coming out party for a gifted, new nightingale. Don't dismiss appropriate comparisons to Neko Case, Jack White, and Sleater Kinney's Corin Tucker as they come to mind. Wennerstrom is worthy of such praise. On the snarling breakup tune "Early in the Morning", she rockets to the stratosphere, pelting her helpless ex with the triumphant realization "I am on my own and on my own". These are two different things, my dear readers. Please try and figure them out. Later on lead single "Out at Sea", the booming vocal dramatics continue - though a recent performance of the song on Letterman reveals just how effortless such talent is for the singer. Even when dialing it back, Wennerstrom's mighty pipes peak above all else. Take the way she slides her cigarette stained croon on into the acoustic-fiddle pairing of "So Quiet". Sounds something like the ghost of Karen Dalton or Billie Holiday, if you ask me. This is a voice that needs to be heard...preferably wallowing from the jukebox in a 2am haze.
Of course, Heartless Bastards wouldn't be built for the bar if they couldn't match such vocal might with an equally superior sonic presence. Surprise, Surprise...turns out Wennerstrom is just as accomplished on the guitar as she is behind the microphone. Take the way opener "The Mountain" churns along with a sexy sort of sleaze caught up in its' cool and crunchy chords. Drummer Dave Colvin's quarter note smack on a sloppy set of hats provides a much needed sense of power. And Bassist Jesse Ebaugh buoys this tattered baby firmly to the listeners' soul. These are also just the basics for the track; a wash of peddle steel and slide guitar add nice accessories to an already powerful, mid-tempo monster.
A full cycle through should be enough to convince you that Heartless Bastards are a beauty of a band. And if by chance you've been keeping up with their career? Well, The Mountain just so happens to be their finest work to date. But what I want to know is this: What exactly are you doing here letting such boozy business merely spark the inebriated imagination? Immerse yourself in the real deal, neon glow of a local kind of establishment instead...and treat the good patrons to the best bar band in America while you do. I guarantee, the reaction will be...positive. - David Pitz