I first heard of Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts when Popdose founder and human equivalent of the Angriest Whopper Jeff Giles* asked me to write a three–part series about a great EP that they did in conjunction with our friends at Red Pill Music. Four years later, Nielsen has returned with Heavy Metal, his third studio full-length overall and first since 2011’s Presents the Rusted Hearts. Popdose is pleased to premiere the album in its entirety in advance of its release April 29.
Underneath the muscular sound of Heavy Metal is a version of Cosmic American Music where Paul McCartney joined the Byrds instead of Gram Parsons. It’s evident in the way he layers hooks on top of each other (check out the saxophone and twin guitars of “Strangers”), how his bridges often take unexpected musical detours and his knack for memorable melodies (“Heavy Metal”) that bounce along like lost Jellyfish tracks (“This Is Love”).
Combining folk-rock and power pop may seem like an odd balance of influences (even though you can barely hit my sweet spot any sweeter), but it all makes sense coming from Nielsen, largely because it is, literally, in his DNA. His father is Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, who pretty much wrote the book on combining perfect pop melodies and off-kilter bridges. But Miles’ music is more rooted in the classic rock of his father’s contemporaries than Cheap Trick’s power chord crunch, with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers as the most obvious influence, and he’s quite comfortable with soul grooves (“Is This Life?”) .
It helps that the Rusted Hearts are as versatile a band as you’re going to find anywhere, and that’s what makes this Nielsen’s best work. In the years since their last album, they’ve become a fierce, cohesive unit on the strength of regular touring, particularly around the Upper Midwest cities near their hometown of Rockford, Ill. Dan McMahon provides excellent lead guitar work, Adam “Dark Lord” Plamann pulls double duty on keyboards and woodwinds. Along with “Fast” Dave McLellan on bass, the three of them provide harmonies reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s classic period (“Simple Times”). Behind the skins, Jeff Werckle keeps them all in line.
Beginning with a kickoff show in Rockford on Friday, Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts will be on tour for much of the spring and summer. I’ve seen him a handful of times in Chicago over the past few years and he’s never failed to put on a great show. You can get all the dates at their website.