Heartless Bastards' singer guitarist Erika Wennerstrom recently released her first solo album, Sweet Unknown. But Heartless Bastards fans need not fear. The solo release does not signal the end of The Heartless Bastards. At least that's what Erika says. And it seems to make sense. The songs on the album are too personal for it to not be a solo album.
These nine sprawling autobiographical songs reflects intense soul searching, reflection and a personal promise for a happier life. They are sung with the passion of the woman who lives them. They are not just some ditties. They are about her life and in fact are her life. The themes though, such as a void in your life or letting go of the past, or self love are universal.
Heartless Bastards fans can also rest assured that what they've grown to love about Wennerstrom's music is still front-and-center on Sweet Unknown. Erika is a brilliant singer with great range and brilliant techinical singing skills. NPR aptly describes her vocals as"warm yet gritty, throaty yet sweet, gigantic, yet intimate". I once read where Van Morrison said that it shouldn't matter that he simply stands still on stage, because his voice is doing gymnastics (or something like that). That applies perfectly to Erika. While the vocals are outstanding, the instrumentation has a bluesy indie-rock vibe with a fair amount of production used to great benefit. It's far from the acoustic singer songwriter feel that you might expect from such a personal album.
The first song, Twisted Highway, foreshadows the themes on the record.
And where do I go off to now
I'm trying so hard to grow
With each new situation
I'm challenging my hesitation
Trying to fulfill this life I'm living
And accept that things are changing
Let go of what drags me down and useless information
And oh my fingers how they bled
From gripping on so tight for so long
then I let my spirit fly away to see from a different point of view
And then I gazed and I was so amazed. . .
The second song, Extraordinary Love, might be the most important on the album. It's not about romantic love. It's about extraordinary self love.
. . . When you’re living your life in constant motion remember to breathe
Feel the earth between your heels and toes and just breathe
I was always in such a hurry that my head would spin and the signs were blurry
Oh it was so hard for me to see
Oh and I was searching for a place to feel at home
A place where I could breathe
And oh I found that I needed to slow down
Then it was so clear for me to see
I want to feel extraordinary love
A love that always echoes through my mind I want to feel extraordinary love
A love that only comes from within side
In Twisted Highway she sings about how her fingers have bled from gripping so hard for so long. The third song, Letting Go, answers that.
I've been spending a lot of time alone
And I don't mind because this time has shown me
The world can take me as I am
So deeply flawed and loving kind
I'm just like everybody else
So deeply flawed and loving kind. . .
Sweet Unknown is clearly one of the best rock albums of the year.
- Alan Loves Music