After cutting their first two albums as a lean but muscular power trio, the Heartless Bastards have grown into a somewhat different creature on their third LP, The Mountain. Vocalist and guitarist Erika Wennerstrom is the only survivor from the group's original lineup, and after leaving behind her hometown of Cincinnati, OH for Austin, TX, she's assembled a new version of the Heartless Bastards. Along with new members Billy White on bass and Doni Schroader on drums, The Mountain features violins, pedal steel guitar, mandolin, and banjo as well as a few guest guitarists, and though this music is still rooted in Wennerstrom's full-bodied vocals and thick, no-frills guitar work, The Mountain is a more introspective and rootsy sounding album than this group has released to date. Wennerstrom has a voice that can shake apart a room when she's of a mind, but she takes a more subtle approach here, slipping in a few acoustic tunes that allow her to explore the softer side of her instrument, and "So Quiet" and "Had to Go" could pass for a new millennium version of the sort of music Harry Smith would dig up on a regular basis. But if The Mountain is a more diverse set than the old Heartless Bastards gave us, it's still rooted in the same emotionally direct songwriting and performing that is this band's trademark, and for all that's changed with the band, Wennerstrom has held on to her core virtues -- this is fierce, heartfelt rock & roll that tells stories you can believe in and lets the music sing out with a power that's all the more compelling for being firmly rooted in the real world.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming