ZZ Ward sweeps me away with her new single “On One”. This offering from her upcoming third studio album Dirty Shine is my introduction to the Pennsylvania-born, Oregon-raised singer/musician/songwriter and I’ll be coming back for more.
Ward proves that invoking traditional forms in a bracing modern context is possible rather than simply regurgitating the past. The personal means something here as well. “On One” ignites, in large part, thanks to the breakneck passion of Ward’s performance. There’s an audible sense of stakes filling every second of the song as it sounds like Ward’s future depends on her ability to nail this vocal. She fulfills that ambition – big time. I love the stylistic mix she achieves. “On One” is part R&B, part hip-hop, part blues, and throws in a smattering of pop for good measure.
Her bluesy bray sends the song’s refrain bursting into the red without ever overwhelming listeners. She glides confidently through the verses with a near hip-hop delivery that gripped me with its rhythmic command. The pop structure of the song and understated R&B musical touches throughout the performance add delectable icing on a thoroughly satisfying confection. The joy and playfulness of creation come across in the song’s accompanying music video. The clip is a creative riff on the zombie genre written, directed, and produced by Ward’s brother Adam William Ward and features the cowboy hat clad ZZ clashing with various undead. It’s interspersed with shots of Ward delivering the song for the camera and relies on time-tested music video techniques such as jump cuts for the final result. It’s a promotional video that doesn’t really have much, if anything, to do with the song and its initial source of inspiration, but it’s nonetheless great fun.
“On One” grew out of Ward’s recent motherhood. It sounds like a rebirth for her and the emboldening power of becoming a parent has set her on a rejuvenated path. This is a singer who is clearing the decks of the past and swaggering into the future unburdened by the baggage of years gone by. Some of my favorite moments of the track incorporate that aforementioned swagger and her idiosyncratic use of language gives “On One” a flavor that’s at once familiar, yet highly individualistic. It doesn’t go on too long either. The production, as well, places Ward’s voice front and center while the music throbs behind her. It has excellent aural balance.
I am a great fan of how the song surges from my speakers, irrepressible and crackling with life, and the assorted payoff moments throughout the song never fail to deliver the goods. It isn’t difficult to imagine the cut translating to stage performance with minimal effort. Ward will capitalize on its inherent potential and likely knock listeners for a proverbial loop with her live interpretation of this song. If the remaining songs on Dirty Shine are as good as this, we’re about to hear ZZ Ward reaching the peak of her powers. I hope you’re ready. It’s going to be an unforgettable ride from here.
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