By Shain Shapiro
Gender politics aside, songwriter Erika Wennerstrom plays ball in a league dominated by men. Her Heartless Bastards, featuring Mike Lamping on bass and Kevin Vaughn on drums, is a crunchy, blues-riff-dominated southern rock collective, despite being a trio – and focusing just as much on piano as guitar - while being directed, in every way possible, by a woman. It's about time. Furthermore, All This Time is a sharp, edgy rock feast, bursting with chunks of blues, metal, and progressive jazz akin to fellow heavyweights Drive-By Truckers and Gov't Mule. Yet in Wennerstrom, a softer, more melodic aesthetic weaves an equally important path through each song, creating an assaulting album that pursues just as much heartfelt diplomacy as hard-edged physicality.
From the opening blues-infused corker, "Into The Open," Wennerstrom establishes a mood that remains consistent throughout the listen. This is not a soft, gentile listen, but peer deep enough into it and flecks of softness appear beneath the veil of power and power chords. All this power, in its most socially masculine sense, is fashioned through demanding chord progressions covered in the whisky and sweat that is poured into many cocktails south of the Mason-Dixon line. In addition, Wennerstrom sounds inherently masculine, deep-throated and vocally low when she sings, as if several cocktails were downed in haste before the recordings began. "Blue Day" bleeds with such phallic intensity while the jam emanating from the end of the title track does much of the same. It is like Wennerstrom understands the southern, male-musical mind as well as anyone, transmitting its drippings through her own domineering vocal style. Said vocals, especially on aptly titled "Brazen" and stoner-rock-influenced "No Painting Arrows," heighten the listen, creating a southern rock fury that spews as much testosterone as any male-fronted Mississippi anthem.
But All This Time is not all heartless. The female intuition inherent in each of these songs still shines through, albeit bogged down by testosterone. These songs make you think just as much as sweat, showcasing a growing songwriter evolving via her own beasts and burdens throughout the process. "Came a Long Way" is sweeter than tupelo honey, while the string-buttressed "I Swallowed a Dragonfly" could have easily come from Fiona Apple's pen. While the listen is themed more often than not through a full frontal, male gaze, the attention to detail and carefully emotional lyricism is jammed in there as well, and over time, it opens up. Wennerstrom hasn't grown a penis yet, but on All This Time, her Heartless Bastards sure know how to write with one at the helm.
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