The Heartless Bastards started out as a power trio from Ohio, playing a very Midwestern kind of rock ’n’ roll. They weren’t groundbreaking, but neither were they overly reverent about their influences. They sometimes got tagged as a roots-rock act, but they had as much Guided By Voices or Replacements in them as anything else. In any case, the star attraction was always singer-songwriter and guitarist Erika Wennerstrom, who is gifted with a voice that is full of character but never sounds like she’s showing off.
Soon enough Wennerstrom had ditched her old bandmates, moved to Austin, Texas, and hired some studio musicians to help her record 2009’s The Mountain, which largely tells the story of her breakup with one of those old bandmates. This year she returned with an entirely new, four-piece band and Arrow, which sounds a bit like roots-rock queen Lucinda Williams.
Sounding like Lucinda Williams is not a bad thing at all. But I love rock bands, with all their dynamics and dysfunction, and so part of me wants to see the Heartless Bastards story as a cautionary tale about letting the singer become the star at the expense of the other players. After one listen to Arrow, I let go of that idea. Wennerstrom’s talent is just too great to be denied. Every musician should know that when you’ve got a singer like Wennerstrom in your band, your job is to stay out of her spotlight. And the truth is, the new band sounds like it has been tearing up stages for years, and Wennerstrom’s songwriting has never been sharper.
David Vandervelde and Brian Lopez also perform.
HEARTLESS BASTARDS: Belly Up, Monday, April 2, 9 p.m. 858-481-8140. $16.