The Storm

ZZ Ward

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The Storm Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Five years separate The Storm from ZZ Ward's 2012 debut Til the Casket Drops, but the modern blues-rocker wasn't idle during that half-decade. She toured extensively, opening for legends and appearing in the middle of the bill on festivals, but more importantly, she never strayed far from the studio, attempting to cut new material as early as 2015. An EP called Love and War materialized that year, intended as a teaser for a 2016 record called This Means War that never happened. Instead, she returned to the studio and came up with The Storm, a record that nimbly walks the line dividing modern and retro rock-soul. As a singer, she's firmly grounded in tradition, a big, powerful belter in the vein of Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. She also has a fondness for traditional song structures, whether it’s a 12-bar rave ("Let It Burn") or classic soul ("Hold On"), but The Storm never feels like it's a throwback, thanks to Ward's insistence on camouflaging her fascination with yesteryear in modern dress. While Ward never quite indulges in a full-bore hip-hop/blues fusion, The Storm is littered with fluid rhythmic loops and her delivery can be as fleet as a rapper. Ward supplements these lively modern R&B numbers with nods toward diva pop ("The Storm"), melancholy folk ("If U Stayed"), and stomping Black Keys rock ("Ride," featuring guitar from Gary Clark, Jr. and also featured in Cars 3), all of which are impressive even if they do carry a faint air of hedging her bets; she's leaving doors open to other styles if the modern R&B doesn't work out. Nevertheless, this versatility is as impressive as Ward's bold performances and sharp songwriting, all elements that make The Storm effective, colorful, and contemporary.

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