TLC still sounds great – ZZ Ward shows her talents

TLC, “TLC” (852 Musiq)

TLC, the iconic ’90s-era girl group, is back after 15 years away and these women are clearly not wasting anymore time. “We don’t need no introduction”, they boast on the first song of their new self-titled CD. “No, we don’t need no instructions/We already paved the way”.

They’re right. For those of you who have no idea whom TLC is, we’ll wait while you go to the closest older person who can explain how important “No Scrubs”, “Waterfalls” and “Creep” were for a generation raised on the band’s mix of female empowerment and socially conscious lyrics. (Ed Sheeran is clearly a fan — he had to credit the band’s “No Scrubs” for his hit “Shape of You”.)

Back? OK. The self-titled album is from the surviving members, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas. Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes died in a 2002 car crash. The new album heartbreakingly includes an old recording of Lopes’ voice as an interlude, a nice way to include her in 2017.

As for the album, funded in part by Kickstarter, it’s a kaleidoscope of different sounds and moods, befitting an album with some 20 different songwriters. It’s executive-produced by Ron Fair, who has worked with Vanessa Carlton and the Pussycat Dolls, while Watkins had a hand in almost every song.

It veers from the stripped-down acoustic of “Perfect Girls” — a sort of updated “Unpretty” — to the R&B-flavored “Joy Ride”. There’s a techno-touched “Scandalous” and a ’70s-disco boogie “It’s Sunny”, which samples Earth Wind & Fire.

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. (AP)

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. (AP)

By Mark Kennedy

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