ZZ Ward’s third album Dirty Shine promises to be a doozy based on a single such as “On One”. The raging whirlwinds and unchecked energy of this song harnesses Ward’s passion and skill in breathtaking fashion and propels listeners into a musical hurricane that carries them away. The Pennsylvania-born Oregon transplant first broke through in the early 2010s with her debut single “Put the Gun Down” and earned renown for her wicked smart and soulful take on time-tested blues traditions. She’s widened her scope since then, incorporating hip-hop, R&B, and rock into her wheelhouse, and has tasted mass acclaim. It hasn’t diluted her purpose, however, and she remains as committed as ever before to writing and releasing music on her terms.
She’s never laid out those terms in the unequivocal way she does here. “On One”, at risk of cliché, takes no prisoners. It’s a stomping bucket of blood performance that features Ward riding atop a musical wave that washes over you and carries listeners away in a tsunami of sound. There’s something for everyone in the music. Ward is just as much at home with blood-curdling blues shouting as she is with chin up and in your face rapping during the song’s verses. It all ties together without ever feeling like she’s ramrodding a handful of styles into an uneasy whole.
Her video for the song adds to the completeness of the package. This is especially impressive considering that the video’s content has nothing to do with the song’s subject matter. Ward takes the promo clip as an opportunity for creative fun fusing the classic cowboy and zombie genres together in a romp that will hold the viewer’s attention. She doesn’t ever forget to perform specifically for the camera, however, and does an exemplary job of bringing the lyrics to life through her visual and physical connections with the material.
The passing R&B touches present in the song’s music give “On One” an extra splash of color. It’s the engaging rhythms, however, and romping beat of the song that invigorates Ward’s vocals above all else, however, and she especially takes charge during passages owing a considerable debt to hip-hop. Her facility with the style is beyond any doubt. The varied vocal phrasing of her performance is one of the song’s highlights and further burnishes her reputation as one of the best singers in popular music today.
Dirty Shine is her third studio release and promises great things. Some artists only experience a single peak moment in their careers, but other talented artists string together a series of such achievements. ZZ Ward falls into the latter category. “On One” from Dirty Shine represents the latest peak in an artistic journey that has a startling range. She hasn’t narrowed her focus with this new single but, instead, widened it to make room for the latest pivotal experiences in her life and how they’ve empowered her. “On One” likewise suggests that there are even greater peaks to come. We owe it to ourselves as music fans to witness her scaling each one.