Heartless Bastards: Arrow

Heartless Bastards, ArrowHeartless Bastards: Arrow
Heartless Bastards‘ fourth album, Arrow, finds singer Erika Wennerstrom and her band seeking shelter. It’s a safety that is never guaranteed. There is little hope for escape from hard times, but, when survival is the imperative, staying on the move is better than waiting around in resignation to pending threat. If the Bastards’ last album, The Mountain, was an introspective rumination on Wennerstrom’s love and how she came to lose it, Arrow is her attempt to quit bellyaching, roll up her sleeves, and do the work required to get to the next place, keeping the faith that it will be an improvement upon the present circumstance. Littered with allusions to being far from home and finding home, Arrow is a literal, physical album that seeks to draw a map to concrete outcomes. And on that map, the whiskey stains and cigarette burns acquired in its making are part of the geography, as landmarks, signposts, and obstacles to be navigated. Though the destination is unclear, the journey’s value is in making the effort. “We all race for our own reasons,” she sings on the opening track, “Marathon”, “and sometimes, in the middle, we all meet.”
The garage-rock designation that has been applied to Heartless Bastards on previous albums is less applicable on Arrow. On this outing, Heartless Bastards might be more appropriately likened to the roots rock of Steve Earle or Drive-By Truckers, with whom the Bastards toured in 2011. Fortified by the addition of a second guitarist, Mark Nathan, the Bastards’ once-sparse sound, while still conventional, is fuller, bringing a more sweeping, cinematic intimacy and always providing a solid vehicle for Wennerstrom’s doleful hoot. Think wide and distant shots of a road-worn Chevy pickup, motoring across a hardscrabble horizon.
“All of my days I spend wandering out, wandering towards the sun,” as Wennerstrom sings on “The Arrow Kills the Beast”. It’s a line that sums up the pioneering spirit of the album. There comes a time when dealing in known quantities, however safe and comfortable, becomes unbearable. Hitting the road and riding things out to the bitter end will either bring doom or salvation. But death by the elements, or triumph over them, is a better death, or greater triumph, than a life of fear, drowning in the hypothetical.
Rating: 8.5/10
MP3: Heartless Bastards “Marathon”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! Vinyl