Recording with her road band on her second album gives Benitez the firepower she needs to bring these songs to life in the studio as they surely do in a live setting. Her tight and focused band play country music with a view to the past and an ear for the future. This is identifiably country music and not some pop crossover. There’s twang, there is steel guitar and there’s an understated but entirely effective rhythm section pushing things along. Then there are Benitez’s songs and her clear and concise delivery. All of this makes this a very good album.
Benitez’s voice reminded me a little of Laura Cantrell at her most country in overall tone though she is plowing her own furrow. Heartless Woman shows a lot of understanding of classic country themes and temptations. Benitez recorded the album in San Francisco, and though there is no credit for a producer, I would imagine it was something of a collective effort as these are musicians who would be familiar with each other from many gigs and hours on the road.
Her songs are both catchy and captivating and show that she has a full understanding of life, love and leaving. For instance Worst Vacation is a description of waking up in a hotel after a separation and, once realising where she was, considering it an unwanted vacation. Others songs were all written in the wake of that break up. So titles like I Know You’re Bad, This Empty Bottle and Where You Gonna be Tonight?are all reflections of heartache -an essential ingredient of classic county. However the uptempo attitude of Take Me off the Shelf shows a determination to move on. The title track finds the subject wishing she was a heartless woman, then the break-up would not affect her in the ways it did. Benitez is clearly someone who is far from heartless, or hopeless, and the pain in some of the songs is palpable; but, as with the best country songs, these are about empathy and a sense of universality.
The one cover is a version of Gillian Welch’s Tear My Stillhouse Down. While Benitez does a good job of it, it doesn’t surpass the original but it has attitude and is a reference point. Laura Benitez and the Heartache together have produced something worth hearing; a blend of a number of Americana influences and a worthy addition to the tradition of California country music, of Bakersfield and of the Palomino Club in its heyday. It would indeed be heartless not to recognise a strong talent in the making.