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

Music » Concert Preview

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


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


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

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  →