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Heartless Bastards make a direct hit with Arrow

Heartless Bastards - Arrow
(Partisan Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: February 13, 2012
Heartless Bastards

Review by Holiday Girod

If we're to subscribe to the theory that you can't judge a book by its cover, then we shouldn't take Heartless Bastards' new album art for their fourth full-length effort, Arrow, at face value. If we did, then (with its imagery of a bison and mountainscape decoupaged on a tanned hide) this would surely sound folkier - with more Americana leanings - than it does. Not that they haven't sipped from this watering hole before (e.g. their last 2009 album The Mountain still rocked, but with a decidedly rootsier swagger).

But instead of sounding like someone had just pulled the plug on Crazy Horse's amps, what this album evokes is the pure power of rock-n-roll - even if that power may take a while to build as it slowly seeps in like an ether under the door and then... BAM!... suddenly the whole room is on fire. It doesn't hurt that, even when things are quieter, it never feels laborious or a waste of time, but rather a necessary means to one hell of an end. This is encapsulated perfectly in the hypnotic tracks "Marathon" and "The Arrow That Killed The Beast," while they shift paths and go straight for the throat on the bump-and-grind T. Rex-inspired glam-slam of "Got To Have Rock and Roll," as well as the sunny, driving groove of "Parted Ways" (the first single from the album) and "Simple Feeling," with frontgal Erika Wennerstrom & Mark Nathan's spiraling guitars and urgent cascading rhythms from drummer Dave Colvin and bassist Jesse Ebaugh bringing things to an epic cacophonic conclusion. On the mesmerizing track "Late In The Night" the foursome mix scrappy garage rock with good-old-boy southern boogie, and damn if it don't sound great. Of course, the true magic of this band has always lied in the cooler-than-ice husky vocals of Wennerstrom - evoking both sensuality and mystique. Perhaps her most beautiful delivery is on the folkier sonnet "Low Low Low," where her aching vocals weigh into the Appalachian-woven strings like footprints on freshly fallen snow.

It may just be a coincidence that Heartless Bastards' new album hits stores on Valentine's Day, but all I know is this Arrow has made a direct hit... and I'm head over heels.

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