Erika Wennerstrom isn't resting on her remarkable voice.
The Heartless Bastards singer's throaty alto suggests long nights, possible parentage by Robert Plant and Zooey Deschanel, and at least one stint in juvie.
It is a voice at which to marvel, and to wonder at how it's being emitted by Wennerstrom, a smallish, 35-year-old Ohio native with an unassuming stage presence.
Wennerstrom just wants to do more things with it.
She experiments with falsetto on the swaying "Only for You," from her band's third album, "Arrow." The song was partly inspired, she said, by old Lee Hazlewood-Nancy Sinatra duets.
"The Arrow Killed the Beast," also from "Arrow," evokes Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western instrumentals, but with Wennerstrom's voice as the primary instrument.
"The last three or four years, I got really into that big (Morricone) reverb," Wennerstom said by phone during a tour stop in Fargo, N.D.
The Heartless Bastards will perform Monday night at Harlow's in Sacramento.
As she incorporates new and diverse interests into her band's repertoire, the singer, songwriter and guitarist finesses her voice's primal force.
"On the first album (2006's 'All This Time'), I was sort of belting through every single song, and my throat was so raw all the time," Wennerstrom said. "I am really amazed that I never got nodes on my vocal chords."
The approach is more deliberate, but the driving, garage-rock spirit that always infused Wennerstrom's 9-year-old musical project remains on "Arrow." This time out, though, the production is more polished, and the guitars and rhythm section are as prominent in the mix as Wennerstrom's vocals.
Originally a three-piece band with Wennerstrom's longtime boyfriend, Mike Lamping, on bass, Heartless Bastards now is a four-piece. Wennerstrom is the lone original member.
The current band formed after Wennerstrom and Lamping broke up and she moved from Cincinnati to Austin, Texas. Mark Nathan adds a second guitar and rich blues-rock leads; Jesse Ebaugh plays bass and handles pedal steel on the group's forays into country; drummer Dave Colvin, like Wennerstrom an Ohio transplant to Austin, had recorded with her early in her career.
Wennerstrom is the classic frontwoman, in talent and charisma, if not swagger.
"It's so much more about singing, for me," she said. "I don't feel like my stage presence is very theatrical."
Around age 8, Wennerstrom began telling people in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, that she was going to be a singer.
"But I was also quite shy about it, and I honestly didn't even know if I could do it," she said. "I never sang in public."
The young Wennerstrom would have been happy with a spot on "The Mickey Mouse Club," she said. The rock influences first seeped in through her mother, who listened to Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.
A love for 1970s album rock developed in her early 20s.
"I didn't really appreciate classic rock until I started trying to write songs" and discovered complexities in music she had taken for granted, Wennerstrom said. "Some of the big influences on ('Arrow') are T Rex and Thin Lizzy."
Wennerstrom grew especially fond of Thin Lizzy's "Whiskey in the Jar" after hearing it on the jukebox as she tended bar in Cincinnati.
John Patrick, music director for Kentucky/Ohio radio station WNKU, said his station has played Heartless Bastards tunes since the start. Two things are mentioned when Wennerstrom's name comes up, Patrick said.
"We hear it all the time: 'There is just something about her voice,' " Patrick said. "And some people will say, 'Hey, she was my bartender!' "
The Heartless Bastards were building just as the Black Keys, the Ohio band to which Heartless Bastards often is compared, were starting to break out.
"We opened for them once in 2004, and Patrick said we sounded great," Wennerstrom said, referring to Keys drummer Patrick Carney. He asked for a demo CD, "but we had sold all of them, and I couldn't give him one," Wennerstrom recalled with a laugh.
A determined Carney later showed up at a Heartless Bastards gig in Akron. He was one of about five people in the bar that night, Wennerstrom said.
Things worked out better this time. Carney passed along the Heartless Bastards' CD to his label, and a new era began for the band.
"We released a real record instead of me burning them on my computer," Wennerstrom said with a laugh.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Harlow's, 2708 J St., Sacramento
INFORMATION: www.harlows.com, (916) 441-4693