Say this for the Heartless Bastards: they know what their strongest asset is, and on Arrow, their latest, they leverage the absolute crap out of it. Erika Wennerstrom is a powerhouse front-woman under any definition, and here, she’s full-fledged and aggressive, just sweet enough to keep from sounding acidic, but someone who can power her way through a weak song on the strength of her vocals and make a strong song positively explode.
There are a lot of those strong songs on Arrow, and that’s reassuring as a way to show growth and consistency for a band that’s traditionally been a lot better live than on record and has been through a few lineup changes since its 2003 formation. That’s not a backhanded compliment of Arrow, more an acknowledgment that, save for a folk ballad or two to dry the sweat, the band never goes too far outside of its scruffy blues-rock comfort zone here, and any time it does stretch — toward pop, toward anything gentler or shinier, really — it feels like an unnecessary, well, stretch. Call it a gut-check rock album where Kinksian rockers like "Skin and Bone" get up to no good with jammy punk ("Parted Ways"), Zeppelin theatrics ("Got To Have Rock and Roll") and metal-flecked alt-country ("Down in the Canyon," a guitar summit on a scary mountain). We haven’t heard too many of those recently, and this band does ’em better than most.