If Judy Garland had landed in Oz in 1960 instead of 1939, followed the yellow brick road straight to the local karaoke bar and requested something bluesy to ease her not-in-Kansas-anymore induced homesickness, the resulting sound would be that of Heartless Bastards’ The Mountain. Owing to a distinct, mature vocal tone (think Melissa Ethridge comes to Zooey Deschanel’s window) and a constantly changing line-up, Erika Wennerstrom truly is Heartless Bastards. The Mountain, the third album from this blues-rock trio (named after an incorrect answer on a Mega Touch quiz game reading “Tom Petty and the Heartless Bastards”), makes up in soulfulness what it lacks in creativity.
Musically, the album sounds similar to label-mates and fellow Ohioans The Black Keys, who actually passed on a demo from Wennerstrom in 2004. Each earthy track is demonstrative of the band’s maturation since All This Time (2006). The guitar riffs and the melodies, however, are all too familiar here. Citing influences ranging from Neil Young to Janes Addiction to David Bowie, Heartless Bastards have tried too much here. The stylistic variation from track to track makes each one better suited for a mix tape than a cohesive album. Songwriter Wennerstrom attempts to keep the lyrics as simple as the sound, but falls flat at times. Particularly in the all-too-countrified “Be So Happy," in which a plucky guitar combines with a chorus of “I could be so happy if I just quit being sad.”
The Mountain adds another retro sound to what has thus far been a renaissance year in music. Thanks to Wennerstrom’s voice, it does stand alone among the many indie-rock bands piling into the Delorean and heading back, back, way back.
Hometown: Dayton, Ohio Release Date: Feb. 3 Label: Fat Possum 99-Cent Budget Choice: “Wide Awake”