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Heartless Bastards:: The Mountain (Album Review)

Interband breakups always make for inspired recordings. The Heartless Bastards’ third album and first since guitarist/vocalist Erika Wennerstrom split with longtime boyfriend/bassist Mike Lamping and relocated to Austin, The Mountain proves no exception. A sense of detachment and displacement lingered throughout 2006’s All This Time, and here those feelings are stripped to the core, especially on the stark, solo, acoustic “Be So Happy,” revealing a raw beauty that evokes the lo-fi, back-porch blues of the Bastards’ Fat Possum labelmates. Produced by fellow Cincinnati transplant Mike McCarthy and backed by hired studio guns, Wennerstrom clearly hasn’t lost any of the garage rock fury that defined the Bastards’ 2005 debut, Stairs and Elevators, as evidenced by the assembly-line stomp in “Early in the Morning,” the emotive tidal pull of “Out at Sea,” and the lonesome “Hold Your Head High.” Like the Black Keys with Attack & Release, Wennerstrom consciously breaks her own mold, beginning with the epic title track, an uphill battle of churning power chords and aching steel guitar and continuing through the plaintive folk of “So Quiet” and the fiddle-laced, wasteland sorrow of the seven-minute “Had to Go.” The Mountain represents not only a point of no return and a cornerstone for the Heartless Bastards; the album’s a personal triumph of desolate determination.