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September 27th, 2023

zz ward dirty shine spotlightELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


Back in 2017, I was introduced to the singer ZZ Ward thanks to her song, “Ride,” which played at the end of Pixar’s “Cars 3.” Shortly after that, I went to YouTube and discovered she had a couple other albums she’d released, both of which I’ve listened to multiple times since that introduction. 

So when I heard a few weeks ago she would have a new album coming out, I knew I would have to listen to it either on YouTube or on Spotify. I did just that earlier this week while working on some other work and ultimately ended up pleased with what I heard. 

For those who haven’t heard of Ward, she entered the music business in 2012 with her debut album, “Til the Casket Drops,” which was ultimately voted #6 on Blues Rock Review’s Top 20 Albums of 2012. Her next album, “The Storm,” followed in 2017 and ultimately went to #1 on the Billboard Blues chart. 

The album opens with the instrumental “Welcome To Dirty Shine” which quickly transitions into “Ride Or Die” featuring Vic Mensa. “Ride or Die” is very fun and is definitely a Bonnie & Clyde type of love song, while also being kind of sad because the story of someone being attracted to a toxic partner after a rough upbringing/childhood is sadly, not uncommon. With “Ride or Die,” I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure about Mensa’s part because I didn’t feel it entirely fit into the rest of the song. The song’s lyrics are also pretty strong, and Ward’s WHOOP vocals are a pretty accurate depiction of a police siren. 

Another particular favorite song from the album was “On One,” which is super fun and one of the rare songs I’ve heard I can definitely imagine being performed live in a concert. The song is very empowering and it’s a great song about healing and living a best life thanks to lyrics like “I'm alright/And I got a good feeling/I've been fine/Yeah I got me some healing” and “I got power, tall as a tower/Monster, Momma moves/I'm on one/I got diamonds, sound of the sirens/Sixteen story views/I'm on one/I got visions, way up I'm living/Good, great, better, best” from the chorus. The song goes very fast and I can imagine it being a great dance tune. 

Later on in the album, there’s a pair of songs I felt could be sequels to each other, and those are “Forget About Us” and “Friends Like These.” “Forget About Us” is a great breakup song and paints a rather vivid picture of how someone can feel after breaking up with someone who cheats – I can almost see someone driving late at night blasting music and going toward a new chapter in life. “Friends Like These” is another great breakup song, but this one is more about dropping friends than a romantic partner. There are times in life where toxic friends need to be dumped, and this song could be good catharsis for someone who’s recently needed to do such thing. 

I also particularly enjoyed “Baby Don’t,” and I find it interesting how she did a song from the perspective of a toxic partner. While catchy and kind of fun, the song is also rather dark when one really listens to the lyrics, which include “And I'll be diggin' his grave/My love's a dangerous game/Don't ever do me wrong/My baby don't, he knows better” in the chorus, so there are definitely some abusive undertones involved. The next song, “OverdoZZe,” has a very catchy beat and it’s a great song about hooking up with someone. It’s reminiscent of something that could have come from Prince or some other similar artist(s), and like some other songs on the album, there’s a very vivid picture painted. 

As one of the last songs (and probably my favorite overall from the album) is “Tin Cups,” which is a duet with Aloe Blacc, and it’s a great collaboration between their two voices. There are a few other guest vocalists on the album, and I have to admit Blacc is my favorite of them all. The song is simple but good, and it’s got a great bluesy rhythm. The last song on the album, “Don’t Let Me Down” ends everything on a great note. The song’s got an almost country/blues feel, and the combination absolutely works – in some ways, it reminds me of Ward’s early single “Put the Gun Down” but sped up. Overall, it’s very catchy and VERY fun-sounding. 

While I overall enjoyed the album, the song “Cut Me Loose” was my least favorite of all the songs. To me, it was too overproduced, too busy and had too much going on, making it unenjoyable. 

Overall, I enjoyed the album and would give it an “A-minus” grade. Ward’s style is uniquely hers, and her vocals are undeniable, being a cross between Adele and Amy Winehouse (which I mentioned in a past review), and the end result is a great collaboration of music. The album features blues, hip-hop, R&B, pop, rock, and Ward performs it all at a high level. “Dirty Shine” is a different album, in a great way, while maintaining the same level as her other music and albums. Ward definitely performs to her own drum and doesn’t conform to the studios’ expectations of what good music is. If you’re into more independent music, ZZ Ward is one to look up, including her newest album “Dirty Shine.”