Genre-bending in the Wild West
Six years since her last album, ZZ Ward’s new record Dirty Shine was released on September 8. Unafraid to play around with genres and mix them together, Ward combines influences from country, blues and hip hop (just to name a few). Since her first album Til the Casket Drops, Ward and her fans have said they are “dirty shine,” meaning they fully accept and love how they’re all a little rough around the edges. Ward now feels as if she can completely be herself and the experimentation on this record proves that.
Ward kicks things off with an intense, western-inspired prelude entitled “Welcome to Dirty Shine” which transitions into the first full-length piece “Ride or Die.” It starts with a basic drum beat and acoustic guitar, then strings are added at the end of the first verse as Ward’s soulful voice flows into the chorus. “Ride or Die” features a verse from VIC MENSA where he speaks about relationships and family. He raps “the absence of her mother / influenced her being truant” and “then they found us, now she’s sitting / inside a cell with me / but Lord knows she’d never tell on me / nor I on her.” The final chorus contains elements heard in previous verses and the song fades out with soft woahs.
“Fadeaway” starts with a fast-paced beat and muffled clapping. When Ward’s vocals come in, the instrumentation slows down. Throughout the track, there are occasional hits on the marimba. The song’s intensity emphasizes how determined Ward is in making a relationship work. She sings “baby look we’ve come, so far / faster than the light of shooting stars / fate can’t reach, where we are.” There’s a similar energy in “On One” with the intense bass and Ward’s dynamic, passionate vocals that sound as if they were recorded in a stadium. During the second to last chorus, Ward’s voice is pitched-down until it eventually returns to normal.
There’s a fiery western feel heard in “Dead or Alive,” which nicely flows into the next track “Forget About Us.” Beginning with heavy bass and plucks on the electric guitar that match the rhythm and pitch of Ward’s voice, this song screams independence. Cymbals burst out during the chorus, along with synths imitating horns. Introduced with buzzing vocals, the instrumentation in “Friends Like These” is composed of hip hop and country influences, specifically with the guitar and sizzles of the hi-hat. The piece concludes with la’s reminiscent of “When I Grow Up” by The Pussycat Dolls.
Listeners can hear influences from early 2000s pop in “OverdoZZe” as well, specifically the prominent bassline, rhythm of the vocals during the verses and empowering chorus that sounds like it was made for an action sequence. “Tin Cups” goes another direction as it has much more of an alternative crossed with blues vibe, with the dominant instruments being acoustic guitar and drums. Ward’s voice sounds particularly raw while Aloe Blacc’s has a nice twang and depth to it. The record concludes with the disco-country track “Don’t Let Me Down.” There are hints of doo-wop with the choppy background vocals in the chorus and the piano notes descending in the pre-chorus add a jazzy feeling.
Dirty Shine is an album that’s willing to go anywhere while also maintaining a consistent atmosphere throughout. The genre-bending heard in each piece makes for a distinct sound that can’t be found elsewhere, which puts Ward in a class by herself.