TERRY GROSS, host:
Our music critic, Ken Tucker, has a review of a new album from the band Heartless Bastards. The group was formed in Cincinnati, Ohio, around the lead singer-songwriter, Erika Wennerstrom. She writes blues influenced rock and Ken says the group's third album, "The Mountain," features a new, bold sound.
(Soundbite of song, "Hold Your Head High")
Ms. ERIKA WENNERSTROM (Lead Singer, Heartless Bastards Band): (Singing) I made a lot of choices, most have not been wise, But I have some really good friends, I've been fortunate enough to find. They me get through the lonely days when I want to stay inside myself. They get me out of my shell, out into the world.
KEN TUCKER: The heart of the Heartless Bastards is Erika Wennerstrom, who wears it on her sleeve. On that song called "Hold Your Head High," she begins by announcing I've made a lot of choices, most have not been wise. Most rock stars would make these lines boastful or self-pitying. Wennerstrom floods these sentiments with ruefulness and regret, and still in the space of a mere 11 words, also fills them with a vow not be such a mess up in the future. She has a gift for making life-errors into more than cheesy life lessons — they become statements of resolve.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. WENNERSTROM: (Singing) Oh! No (unintelligible) I'm trying (unintelligible) I'm (unintelligible). I'll (unintelligible) and through the (unintelligible) and through the (unintelligible) into the wicked sun
TUCKER: Once again there, Wennerstrom gives us a song in which everything is in doubt - all the decisions in her life are in play, changeable, not so much fluid as unsure. The music emphasizes this and when I say music I mean her own guitar playing, which offers a series of vehemently strummed chords bolstered by the drumming of Dave Colvin. Pretty soon Wennerstrom is singing over and over like a chant, I'm going to keep on running. But the message is not running away from her problems but running in the sense of functioning, of continuing to recharge and change to locate the sources of her unhappiness and general restlessness.
(Soundbite of song, "I Could Be So Happy")
Ms. WENNERSTROM: (Singing) Song by Heartless Bastard: "I could be so happy, if I just quit being sad. I could be so funny, if I just quit being a drag. I could be so sweet, if I just quit being sour. I could do all these things. Oh, I have the power. I'm going to see what tomorrow brings, I'm going to make it to the (unintelligible) train. I'm going to see what tomorrow brings, I'm going to take it to the world outside. Ooh.
TUCKER: It's easy to read a lot into the music written and sung by Wennerstrom and her Heartless band mates, it's because she provides us with an open field of opportunity. She has a gift for writing songs that can accommodate not just her own fears, anger and tenderness, but also whatever of these elements in your own life you want to hear in them. She is, as she says here, a searcher - a voyager into the unknown.
(Soundbite of song, "Early In The Morning")
Ms. WENNERSTROM: (Singing) Early in the morning, I woke up out of bed. All my thoughts are running back, running through my head. Of how you want to debate everything you hear, and I just want to go on escaping from my fears. I don't want to follow in a path that makes me hollow. I've been living underground trying to get my spirits up. There's more than one direction to get to the same end. We don't have to agree, we don't have to agree. Since you know it all why.
TUCKER: Throughout this album "The Mountain," Erika Wennerstrom builds many songs to big, swirling climaxes. Sometimes, as on the song I just played, she begins a with the climax. It's as though the song is just bursting out of her heart. She sings deep into the chorus: I'm on my own, I'm on my own. But her isolation never seems desolate or despairing. It's the sound of someone possessed of ruthless clarity, sparing herself nothing. She fills us as listeners with a new sense of purpose we might not have felt before hearing her suggest those possibilities.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "The Mountain" by the band Heartless Bastards. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site freshair.npr.org. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Monique Nazareth, Ann Marie Baldonado, Joan Toohey-Wesman, Sam Briger, Jonathan Menjivar, John Myers and John Sheehan. I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of song, "All The Time")
Ms. WENNERSTROM: (Singing) Mind has drifted out into (unintelligible), so cannot find and the days go by searching all the time. Oh I would search and all, searching all the time. I'm (unintelligible) the eyes of everyone I know and the day's go by, I'm on the way to go. I was searching all, searching all the time. I found myself (unintelligible) and you are not, you've (unintelligible), Oh, oh, oh. And just let go. There are some (unintelligible).