Gnarlier than a century-old Live Oak, Heartless Bastards' The Mountain plugs the Cincinnati-born trio's scorching postmodern blues - their debut, 2006's All This Time, could skin a cat - into the eerie backwoods folk of Greil Marcus' semi-mythical "old, weird America." Opener "The Mountain" is an epic Neil Young & Crazy Horse earth-mover, with psychedelic pedal-steel flourishes that help singer Erika Wennerstrom (who has since relocated to Austin) don the dire Old Testament mantle she carries throughout the album: "Spilt blood on this place/ It only echoes true through all the days." The Mountain's 11 songs form a spellbinding account of Wennerstrom's attempts to reconcile her inner demons (the honky-tonkish "Nothing Seems the Same") and take a few shots at those who have crossed her path (splintering rocker "Early In the Morning") set against an elemental backdrop of a "wicked sun" and "paper skies." Still, it's not without hope: "Things will work out soon/ Things will come round again," advises the Stonesy "Hold Your Head High." The purest pearl, however - edging out Hank Williams hand-me-down (there's even a midnight train) "Could Be So Happy" - comes in spooky Appalachian waltz "Had to Go": "When you take the bark off the tree, it's standing stark." So is she.
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With Andrew Bird, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 21, at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837 or www.hob.com/houston.