Thursday, September 14, 2006

Heartless Bastards

This isn't a blues album.

Yes, it's on Fat Possum, the home of Cedell Davis, Hasil Adkins, and R.L. Burnside.

Yes, Erika Wennerstrom sings the blues.

Yes, the guitar yelps.

Yet this isn't a blues album.

Instead, Heartless Bastards' LP is a triumph in reality. It's frustration on 2-inch tape; irony-free, without effect, and absolutely true. Wennerstrom's 5-year-old Cincinnati trio believes in basics. Her belting voice pierces stage lights and smoke to smack you across the kisser. Last year's Bastard debut, Stairs and Elevators, was only a glimpse into what this 27-year-old volcano can do. S&E tiptoed around the eruption, but All This Time throws caution to the wind. "Into the Open" kicks Time off with a teasing, girly refrain, only to match the piano melody with Wennerstrom's guttural purity and drummer Kevin Vaughn's rat-a-tat. "Searching for the Ghost" is more Cat Power than Angela Strehli, Wennerstrom seductive and powerful in her fortitude. The title track matches wits with "I Swallowed a Dragonfly," both trading pop with riff. By the opening strum of closer "Came a Long Way," Wennerstrom becomes the spotlight, a beacon of rock stardom. Her lyrics flow uncomplicated, her voice bounces off the walls, but Erika Wennerstrom is a diva without the gown. She's true, proud, and sad.

Hell, this is a blues album.

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