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Heartless Bastards: Restless Ones *

Album Notes

Released in 2015, Restless Ones marks the first time the Heartless Bastards have had the same lineup for two albums in a row since All This Time in 2006, and the bandmembers certainly sound more comfortable and at ease with themselves than they have in a while. Lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist Erika Wennerstrom still sings like a powerhouse as she muses about making sense of life's rare peaks and many valleys, but this time she sounds more in sync with her bandmates -- Mark Nathan on guitar, Jesse Ebaugh on bass, and David Colvin on drums -- and this music has a raw immediacy the Bastards haven't matched since their first two albums. The sharp, jittery slide work on "Wind Up Bird" suggests the damaged blues fury of the Gun Club, "Black Cloud" has the decisive snap of vintage R&B, and "Into the Light" is that rarity, a widescreen power ballad that actually has the heart, soul, and riffs to not sound embarrassing in the 21st century. And while the band sounds tight and on point throughout, Restless Ones captures the interplay of four musicians who simply set up in the studio and let it rip; the guitars growl with conviction, the report of the bass is deep and satisfying, and the drumming is solid while leaving just enough room to color the arrangements. (In fact, the band sounds good enough that producer John Congleton often favors them over Wennerstrom in the mix, one of the album's few sonic flaws.) While the extended, effects-laden closer "Tristessa" suggests psychedelia isn't the Bastards' strong suit, the rest of Restless Ones strikes a graceful balance between the ragged but strikingly honest sound of the Heartless Bastards' early work and the most polished attack of The Mountain and Arrow; these songs capture an outstanding band hitting its stride, and growing more comfortable with the craft of record-making along with singing and playing great, passionate music. ~ Mark Deming


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