January 31, 2013

ZZ Ward Makes A Dynamic First Impression

Singer/songwriter ZZ Ward makes a dynamic first impression with her debut LP, ‘Til the Casket Drops (Boardwalk/Hollywood Records), deftly imbuing elements of blues, hip/hop, and pop with juke-joint earthiness and some serious pipes. “I’ve always had a big voice,” says Ward, who grew up in rural stretches of Roseburg, Oregon—“Where I lived was in the middle of a 23-acre farm,” she says. “There was nothing around.”—before moving to Los Angeles where the music scene was more conducive to her ambitions.

“Being around other creative people is very inspiring,” Ward notes. “I did a lot of co-writing when I first moved to L.A. and I learned a lot from that.”

Among the collaborations on the album are with Fitz and the Tantrums frontman Michael Fitzpatrick, who co-wrote the retro-soul-inspired “Save My Life,” and emerging rapper Kendrick Lamar, who spices up the ribald, rhythmic “Cryin’ Wolf” with a few illicit lines.

For the most part, though, Ward says she considers songwriting a solitary, introspective pursuit. “I tend to lock the doors and the windows and not go out for a really long time,” she explains. “It’s just me and my piano, or just me and my guitar. It doesn’t really matter what’s around me. I just go into my own thing.

“I’m an introvert,” she continues. “I’m very personal. I don’t like to tell people a lot of things about my life, but through music I feel very comfortable expressing those things.”

Bringing her songs to life in the recording studio was probably the greatest challenge, actually, though Ward credits her manager, Evan “Kidd” Bogart, a venerable songwriter in his own right for such artists as BeyoncĂ© and Rihanna, with encouraging her each step of the way. “He knew that I loved blues and that I loved hip/hop,” says Ward. “And he heard these songs that I was writing, and he was, like, ‘Don’t think about what would work and what wouldn’t work. Just make a record that you like, that you would want to listen to, that feels right to you.’”

She succeeded.

'Til the Casket Drops brims with visceral conviction, its most potent moments—from propulsive jolts like "Move Like U Stole It" and "Put the Gun Down" to the wrenching ballad, "Last Love Song"—underscoring the arrival of a gifted and invigorating talent.

(First published at Blogcritics.)