Til the Casket Drops
In the second decade of the 21st century, it's surprising that an artist this polished and professional didn’t arrive via a music-related reality show. Instead, Zsuzsanna Eva Ward—a.k.a. ZZ Ward—grew up in the Pacific Northwest, spending rainy days indoors with her father’s blues albums and her brother’s hip-hop collections. She started singing in her dad’s blues band at age 12 before joining various hip-hop acts in her teenage years. Jump to 2012, and she's released a debut album that solidly reflects her musical upbringing. The opening title track on Til the Casket Drops pulses with a seductive and gritty urban rhythm; Ward sings like a tougher Fiona Apple over a flowing blend of rootsy string arrangements set to a tight mix of heavy beats. “Put the Gun Down” is equally dramatic but noticeably more blues-inspired, save for the earworm chorus in which Ward’s powerful voice comes with barbed pop hooks. “Blue Eyes Blind” is sung so soulfully that during the more intense moments it’s hard not to imagine a young Amy Winehouse.