ZZ Ward, "The Storm" (Hollywood Records)
You'll hardly find ZZ Ward described the same way twice. Bluesy, pop-inflected, drawing from the deep well of R&B, indebted to hip-hop, folky, alternative indie and rocker — take your pick and you'll be right every time because all are part of Ward's influences and style.
"The Storm" is the fedora-wearing sophomore album from the Los Angelena (by way of Pennsylvania and Oregon) and it builds on the qualities of "Til The Casket Drops," her successful 2012 debut.
In between, there was an album which she discarded, an EP, some singles, having her songs featured on numerous TV shows and soundtracks, collaborations with Robben Ford, Lindsey Stirling and others — more indications of her wide range and talents — and tours all over.
Notch one up for the blues with "Cannonball," written and performed with Grammy-winner Fantastic Negrito, which also features Ward's harmonica, guitar and her most Amy Winehouse-ish vocal on the album. There's more blues on "Let It Burn" and "Bag of Bones."
"Help Me Mama" is a fiery plea. No matter that "my daddy raised me/tried to keep me his sweet baby," it's still Mom who gets the emergency call when times get rough. "The Storm" is also pleading, a string section underscoring the supplication to a higher power after her chosen one hits the gravel road.
"If U Stayed" is a wrenching ballad in Adele mode, while the thumping "Ride," with Gary Clark Jr., plays over the closing credits of "Cars 3" and serves a similar purpose here, ending the album in fine fashion with a gritty guitar solo.
ZZ Ward (ZZ is short for Zsuzsanna, or Susan in Hungarian) demonstrates gale-force ability on "The Storm." And she keeps her hat on.