All This Time
et’s get this part out of the way quickly: blues, blues-tinged, bluesy, blues rock, blah blah blah. Any description of the Heartless Bastards inevitably includes the word “blues” approximately five times. I’ve now filled my quota; let’s proceed to their latest album, All This Time, a beautiful and expansive work that doesn’t deserve such casual, one-dimensional categorizing.
The Bastards waste no time in stretching their boundaries, leading off with a sweet, distant piano riff in “Into the Open.” Those expecting garage-rock are forced to wait for the slightly harder-hitting chorus, although that plucky piano part just keeps coming back. Guess you’ll just have to learn to get along, because that soft verse is gorgeous, and perfectly suited for being “in a fleeting moment / Traveling far and wide / Into the great big open.” Think of it as a rainbow in an oil slick.
The song confirms, among other things, that Erika Wennerstrom’s vocal talent was no fluke on the Heartless Bastards’ debut. Shifting easily between throaty whispers and formidable full-throttle sustains, Wennerstrom remains undeniably captivating. She sounds like Patti Smith or Janis Joplin, or maybe Regina Spektor with more muscle. But forget all the name-dropping: she’s just got a voice that makes you believe; believe in the lyrics, believe in the music, and believe in her. It’s got power, sincerity, anger, and ambition. Ambition that’s put to good use on All This Time, a collection bound by the age-old search for identity and peace of mind.
Most of the songs pack light for the trip, with fairly simple yet meaningful guitar melodies and textures. “Finding Solutions” features serene, deliberate layers of fuzz distortion with heavily reverbed vocals inlaid into the background in a manner that quickly stirs up Doors comparisons. The lyrics remain just as straightforward and effective, leaving lines like “heard about our troubles, and we’re heading for the setting sun” lingering in the front of your brain.
Despite its intentions, even the college-radio ready “All This Time” upholds the “the journey is the destination” message of the album. Its exhilaratingly relentless, building drum roll of the bridge proves it. The propulsion of the section is so overwhelming that you begin to anticipate the glory that will surely follow once the band explodes into their musical destination. Instead, the build-up evaporates as the group returns to the frivolous bouncing of the verse. After a couple of repetitions, you realize that the bridge is actually the chorus. You also realize that it makes “All This Time” a great (and album-appropriate) song. Instead of holding your hand as she introduces tension and then harmlessly resolves it, Wennerstrom forces you to accept the tension for what it is; an ever-present reality of development and change.
“Came a Long Way” carries the Bastards’ style to its logical (and, for All This Time, literal) conclusion, stripping away all artifice and ornament from the music and lyrics. The limping guitar gait is almost laughably accessible; the drums are barely there, yet somehow exactly where and when you need them. In case the title didn’t tip you off, the album-long journey ends in success, as Wennerstrom wisely notes, “It’s always those little things that eat at your soul / And I’m not going to worry about them no more / I came a long way.”
Reviewed by: Jeff Shreve
Reviewed on: 2006-08-09