by John Tarpley
She may spend her days busying herself with being a recluse, but Grace Slick's voice still lives on in 2011. After its late '90s revival, bluesy garage rock is still thumping away and, for a number of femme-led acts, Slick's ululations lay out the vocal blueprint. And no one nods at the rock legend more faithfully than Erika Wennerstrom, frontwoman for the Austin by-way-of Dayton, Ohio, four-piece, Heartless Bastards.
Sporting a contract with Oxford, Miss., superlabel Fat Possum Records and a 4 1/2 star review from Rolling Stone, the blues-garage revisionists have been building steam thanks to their smart yet rudimentary twist on accessible, full-bodied, decidedly Midwestern rock 'n' roll. The band itself is so solidly traditional and brass-tacked that there's precious few musical ideas to note — or, for that matter, really love. But as spectacularly understated as the men behind her are, Wennerstrom, again, is just as extraordinary. Live, she makes walking the line between Lucinda Williams' rootsy wisdom and PJ Harvey's unapproachable art-swagger look effortless. They're regulars in Little Rock — this week, back for their first time in little less than a year—but, with their ceaselessly upwards trajectory, you never know which show could be their last.
Take a look: "Out at Sea" (live at SXSW 2009)