Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Heartless Bastards

Heartless Bastards - Stairs and Elevators 2005

Go no further fans of power chord churning lady blues. On this, the Bastards debut album, all signs point to a kick in the ass parts! I've had a few friends over the years complain of the absolute dearth of woman fronted bands where the lady actually sings like a grown up, not a little girl. Well the Bastards do indeed oblige the adult sound. Leading lady and guitarist Erika Wennerstrom does more than just howl her way through these up tempo blues crushers. She shows these tunes no pity, her steamroller of a voice is so dominant. On songs such as "Gray", "Done Got Old", and "New Resolution" she upends a dump-truck of soul and heartache. Lyrical content can sometimes veer into a hazy stupor; possibly some booze and other substances were involved in this. Still, it's a potent whiplash combination of tone, energy, and message. Kind of down at times, but with so much raw power. It seems clear the Erika has lived some livin', which you better do before you try to start singing the blues. With all the fireworks it can be difficult to pay attention to all of this melancholy. My little eardrum hairs get singed every time. This album in particular is a frenetic mix of boom boom thud and churn churn browrrrrrrrrllll. The action is GO! Haha...well, occasionally the intensity clicks down a notch, but only for a brief moment or two. That moment is generally followed by the mega wallop and it's right back into "TAKE THAT" and "COME OVER HERE!". There is a whiff of early 90's grunge in this, but it is surprisingly effective.

Live, the band is absolutely sick. Even acoustically (the most recent time {four times and counting} the VV's saw them @ Iota in NOVA) the Cincinnati bred trio left no doubts as to their blues rock chops. Yes, the Heartless Bastards do share some DNA (the blues), a home state (Ohio), and a record label (Fat Possum) with recent mega star the Black Keys. No, the sounds are not the same. Let's face it, Erika is a barnstormer of a lead musician. Comparing what she does to what the Black Keys are doing is just plain silly. Like comparing cheese and tofu. Sure they're both curds, but c'mon... it's not the same thing. This isn't about a battle of the sexes, but when you listen to the Bastards you are most assuredly listing to a woman. This factoid is out there, intentional, and pretty damn essential to the identity of sound of this absolutely awesome band.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Peter Tosh - Equal Rights

A blog on Peter Tosh has been writer’s block to me.  Having accumulated six out of his seven solo studio albums, I am still in search of his first, “Legalize It” to complete the collection.  Yet, out of the albums that I do have, at least two stand out as brilliant recordings, start to finish: “Mystic Man” and “Equal Rights”.  I have been wanting to write about them, but without knowing how to get started.  Usually a drink helps – which it did last night – when Mr. VV played a record with “Get Up, Stand Up” and (without having seen what record was spinning) I found myself asking if this was our Bob Marley or Peter Tosh record; in this particular instance I genuinely could not tell the difference.  This got me wondering who actually is credited for this song, because inherently, the tune is more in the style of Tosh - writing about injustice, war, and poverty - not Marley’s one love, three little birds, and that the sun is shining.  Well it’s a split bill on this one, both get the recognition for the penning of “Get Up, Stand Up”.  However, let the record show, that I prefer Tosh's rendition.  Tosh seems to really own the lyrics a bit more than Marley... just sayin'. 
Ms. VV vs. Writer’s Block: 1-0

Peter Tosh, being a founding member of the Wailers, released his sophomore solo album “Equal Rights” in 1977 starting with “Get Up, Stand Up"; how stylistically appropriate.  But it really only gets better from here.  His lamenting sway in "Downpressor Man" is his Jamaican roots take on "Sinnerman", an American folk song made popular by Nina Simone.  Its multi-tonal instrumentals come through as captivating on this track, and make it my favorite on the album.  This is followed by the thoughtful "I Am That I Am" and the politically motivated "Equal Rights" starts off the B-Side.

Peter Tosh's inspired vocals matched with the backing musician's drumbeats provide a definitive heartbeat that can be heard throughout the entire LP and it is worth many a listen.