The Heartless Bastards were clearly going for irony when they chose their band name -- their debut album, Stairs and Elevators, makes it clear this Ohio trio has no shortage of heart, soul, muscle, and fierce passion at their disposal. While drummer Kevin Vaughn and bassist Mike Lamping give this music a very powerful backbone and a hell of a wallop, it's guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Erika Wennerstrom who is clearly the star of this show -- while some have compared her singing to Janis Joplin, Wennerstrom's voice conjures up the same degree of rafter-rattling force without excessive histrionics or overblown blues gestures, and her guitar work is at once simple and loaded with elemental force in the manner of John Lennon or Neil Young's less-is-more chordings. Together, the Heartless Bastards are a power trio who truly live up to the name, and while Wennerstrom's melodies are potent, the lyrics reflect a rough-hewn humanity, documenting the thoughts and fears of a regular gal from the Midwest with clarity, compassion, and unblinking honesty. Stairs and Elevators is an album which doesn't waste much in the way of words or musical gestures, and these recordings make the most of the band's stark dynamics. As Wennerstrom puts it, "For every calm, there is a storm/But it is often out of view," yet the Heartless Bastards leave all their tempests in plain sight, and the thunder of this album makes for a very impressive debut.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming