From L.A. comes a fiery, country-tinted, rock and roll and punk and folk inspired debut that's blazing with energy and amazing vocals.
Well, Hell is Lauren Ruth Ward's first full-length album and a confident step onto the 2018 rock and roll podium. In nine songs clocking in at just over half an hour, Ward and her band swing from ambient, echoing alternative to explosive rock to acoustic folk and more shades in between.
She is so clearly a talented vocalist that it's shocking to discover in her recent past a career as a hair stylist. From track one, "Staff Only"—a cinematic, western-tinged salutation—Ward showcases her powerful, quavering, emotive voice. It's analogue and alternately delicate and fierce. "I am a good woman," she sings, "I talk nice and I mean it . . . Go on and treat me bad." She makes full use of the breathiness of her voice, chopping up notes with whispers and rockabilly hiccups and her rapid vibrato. "Staff Only" is a relatively quiet introduction to the impressive vocals to follow.
Meanwhile, the band burns through songs like "Make Love To Myself," "Blue Collar Sex Kitten" and "Well, Hell".
There is no better word than roaring to describe "Blue Collar Sex Kitten," a funny, fuzzed-out locomotive of a song with hilarious lines like, "You should let me cut your hair / to make you look a little better" and "Be my friend or hate my guts / it doesn't matter, we're all f***ed." Over rumbling drums and a two-chord engine, Ward's vocals touch on a goofiness like Elvis and, in those low runs after the chorus, a punk accent like Spring Awakening.
Moving straight into the country-clean guitar of "Sheet Stains," the band shows off its ability to back up Ward's playful, folk lyrics with polished control as easily as hyper energy. "Did I Offend You?" is a perfect alt-pop song that starts with a melody similar to the style of Sara Bareilles but with the pedal pressed a bit further down.
Put another way, Ward's voice has the incredible versatility to fit every style, mood and movement of the band. She's on the verge of whispering in the melancholy "Travel Man" but sharpens into threatening confidence in "Make Love To Myself."
"Sideways" throws classic three-part harmonies behind Ward's wailing "Ooh-woah-oh-woah-ohhwoahhhhs." The song is full of playful energy and gorgeous transitions. It slows into a spacey, narrative bridge before jumping back into the throwback harmonies—"Do you feel like you want to feel?"—and ending abruptly with a clever, anti-climactic, long-winded "Yeahyeahyeahhhhh." It's incredible.
"Well, Hell," the climactic, breathless title song and album finale, could just as easily have been the album opener and a much different introduction, for new listeners, to Lauren Ruth Ward. Instead, it's a rocking, lyrically dense personal statement. "I walk fast, I talk fast / You better listen fast or get left behind," she declares in the first verse.
Listen fast and you'll catch her three references: quotes from Bowie, Elvis and Sinatra. You'll also fall right into the lovely, swinging tempo changes.
The song's chorus, wailed in the middle and almost whispered at the end, is the perfect footnote to an incredible debut rock and roll album that sounds new and classic at the same time, that introduces Lauren Ruth Ward as a powerful vocalist with lyrical ability to match and that's as exciting on the twentieth listen as it is on the first: "I didn't mean to make your head spin / I have a lot to say / Thank you for listening."
Tom Twardzik is a writer covering music, film, TV and gaming for Popdust. He also contributes travel writing to The Journiest and financial tips to Paypath. Read more on his page and follow on Twitter.
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