Though she’s trying to crash the big time by merging blues and pop R&B, ZZ Ward loves her roots | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Though she’s trying to crash the big time by merging blues and pop R&B, ZZ Ward loves her roots

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ZZ Ward has dedicated her career to merging blues with contemporary pop R&B, achieving fair aesthetic results and mixed commercial success. Her single “The Deep,” off her sophomore album The Storm (out at the end of June on Hollywood), is a fine example of that approach. A meaty riff with chopped-up blues-slide notes dripping around the edges and an honest-to-god classic-rock guitar solo are arranged around a solid radio-ready beat. It’s tough and sexy—and not too far removed from Beyoncé’s similar mashup of rock, roots, and pop on Lemonade. “Help Me Mama” is a step closer to retro, with a strutting roll and Ward declaring in her gritty twang, “My daddy raised me, tried to keep me his sweet baby.” In an alternate universe Ward would be a megastar on country radio, and her collaborations with Kendrick Lamar would be the standard for forward-looking innovation in the genre rather than Florida Georgia Line’s experiments with Auto-Tune. Even while she’s trying to crash the big time, though, Ward still loves her roots. In concert she does the occasional full-on blues cover, complete with her own impressive harmonica playing.   v

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