As a woman, I’m often frustrated by the lack of quality music made by female musicians. Sure, we’ve got Fiona Apple, Kim Gordon and Carla Azar (Autolux’s drummer, slowly gaining a reputation as the greatest woman to own a drum kit). But the ratio of women to men in great bands is pathetic.
Dayton, Ohio’s Erika Wennerstrom is here to save the day. As lyricist, vocalist, guitarist and pianist of the blues-rock trio Heartless Bastards, she and her band (Mike Lamping and Kevin Vaughn) have added a just-modern-enough touch to the Fat Possum family and proven that a woman-fronted band doesn’t have to sound like a sexed-up MTV product. A rough combination of Grace Slick, Regina Spektor and Jack White — yes, that’s right — Wennerstrom’s voice takes center stage without overpowering the heavy guitar riffs or rhythms that support it. The music itself is tough but has enough soul that the band fits in with the other blues artists on Fat Possum’s roster.
Of course, that’s significant, given the band’s contribution to the Junior Kimbrough tribute album Sunday Nights, which Fat Possum released in January. The band covered Kimbrough’s “Done Got Old,” keeping the same tempo but adding a rough touch and making it almost as tight as the original. This track is included on Stairs and Elevators, as are a few more standout, namely the catchy “New Resolution” and “My Maker,” which hover more into rock than blues, and the piano-based “Piano Song.” A solo by Wennerstrom on that song brings her closer to Regina Spektor than anyone will ever get, but it has a touch of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in there as well.
A couple tracks are filler (“Autonomy,” “The Will Song”), but Stairs and Elevators makes me optimistic about the state of rock music, as well as the ability of female musicians. With this solid effort from the Heartless Bastards, Ohio continues to make a name for itself in the music world.