It’s true: this week Heartless Bastards are releasing an
album called Arrow on Valentine’s
Day. Somewhere there is a yarn about cupid walking into a bar or an Alanis
Morissette song perfect for a moment just like this – but we think the joke is
on anyone who dares not take a chance on getting to know the Cincinnati
quartet’s fourth album.
In fact the best implication for Arrow is perhaps the upward direction in which Heartless Bastards
are headed: from a dusty bar band that, as legend goes it, was discovered by
the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, to playing the very same stadiums as their
first supporter. “I’m on my way/ I’m on my way/ I’m on my way,” vocalist du
jour Erika Wennerstrom repeats on the opener “Marathon” almost as if trying to
convince herself, yet that humility is the classic cornerstone of the band who
were just as content to spiffy up the garage they started in while bands like,
well, the Black Keys were tempted to
moved into pearly, gated communities.
The best part of Arrow is that it aims to please no one while at the same time charming the pants
off of everyone. Winded jams blow about on “Parted Ways” and “Down in the Canyon,”
while “Got to Have Rock and Roll” fractionalizes the form into a simple
beginner’s lesson. The band, for its part, seems to have picked up on a few
lessons too: Wennerstrom, lauded for her husky, coffee-rich vocals, digs a
little deeper into her range on “Only for You,” that becomes (for her)
downright flirty, as her bandmates (bassist Jesse Ebaugh, guitarist Mark
Nathan, and drummer Dave Colvin) channel their vigor to move into more progressive
musical arrangements. The interplay best comes across on “The Arrow Killed the
Beast,” a song so buttery and rich, we’re sure there are cave drawings in
homage to it.
While it’s hard to shake Heartless Bastards’ unforgettable
prior release The Mountain (2009), Arrow is
indeed pointed in the right direction with a fresh sound, a newly minted label
(previously the band was signed to Fat Possum)
and a fortified passion that once again proves that Wennerstrom and Co. really
do have heart.
Arrow Killed the Beast,” “Down in the Canyon,” “Only for You” SELENA FRAGASSI