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ZZ Ward, born Zsuzsanna Eva Ward, looked every bit the part of a rock star; complete with obligatory leather pants. Her music was melting pot of blues, folk, hip-hop, and jazz. After growing up with her father’s blues record collection and her brother’s hip-hop collection, she has managed to forge her own take on a blending of the two genres on her debut album, Til The Casket Drops. Production-wise, the album focuses on the hip-hop inspired beats and Ward’s unique style of vocal delivery. For her WERS set, she brought along her touring guitarist, Eric Walls, to play an acoustic set. In this stripped-down setting, her songs lost the hip-hop styled production but gained an added sense of intimacy and emotional vulnerability.
She began her set with “365”. Whereas the album version of this song is more beat-driven, her acoustic stylings leaned more towards her folk and blues influences which showcased her sultry, jazzy style of singing. The catchy chorus repeated the lines “365 days you have been making me wait, so keep your two timing games” paired against a staccato-styled guitar.
Up next was “Charlie Ain’t Home”, definitely a song in which you can hear the hip-hop influences in her vocal melodies. This more rhythmically-driven song gave guitarist, Eric Walls, a fantastic chance to show off his chops. The unsung hero of the set, his fast fret jumps were extremely impressive; his style was very jazzy with some moments that were teasingly bluesy. His solo on this song was particularly astounding and really came out of nowhere; a very unexpected moment during Ward’s set that really helped elevate it to the next level.
The final song was “Put the Gun Down”. With a driving, acoustic rhythm this song ended her set with a bang with lyrics that were reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” (“I said don’t take my man cause you know you can”). Ward mentioned early in her set that the lyrics to her songs are very personal and based on her life, giving the songs an emotional backing. Catchy and quick to get to the chorus, “Put the Gun Down” was a nice, energetic way to end the set. Again, Walls painted the song over with his impressive guitar licks, mirroring the chorus melody while improvising over the verses.
Tipped to be one of the must-see acts of this year’s SXSW festival and Sasquatch festival, they managed to sell out the five-hundred capacity Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge with Delta Rae, no small feat for two bands who are still on the verge of widespread popularity. Ward is touring behind three releases: the aforementioned Til The Casket Drops, an EP titled Criminal, and a mix-tape called Eleven Roses. The latter is particularly interesting as it samples a number of a prominent, modern hip-hop artists such as Childish Gambino, allowing Ward to put her own, bluesy vocals over their beats; an obvious precursor to her debut album.