A recent boom in the music scene in Buffalo and the greater WNY region can be attributed in part to the hard-working musicians of the area. Zak Ward is one of these bell cows, leading the herd of singer-songwriters who are looking to carve a piece of the industry pie for themselves. Zak does this by playing full time with a lot of local success. Between his most recent project, First Ward, and his solo project which goes by his name, Zak is always out around town perfecting his craft. While live performance is something he specializes in and focuses on, his studio work and songwriting are not to be disregarded. There’s a reason Zak Ward is able to make his way around the many venues and breweries in the NYS area. His most recent release, Monologues, gives listeners a vulnerable and easy listen, offering six tracks of Zak’s signature singer-songwriter tunes all with performances as tight as the last.
His rock influences are matched by his folk influences, and his theatrical lyrical work gives every song a strong concept within itself. Something Zak excels at, is leading the listener to hear more than what’s actually recorded. For example, in the first song “How Can It Be?” there’s a distinct feeling of a string or orchestral part in the background. It’s a cool effect, manifested by Zak’s rhythmic right-hand strumming and the use of subtle reverb on his vocals to provide depth. He works the neck of the guitar like a piano, smashing out quick bass lines and riding on the higher notes for melodic effect. The song feels much like a Fleet Foxes song, with mixes of folk and indie, but without the backing instrumentation. Zak’s solo performance is vulnerable and organic.
The guitar tone itself is a big highlight of the EP. The third song, “One Fine Day”, has a plucked guitar line. Each note has a brilliance to it, cutting through the mix just well enough to provide good pulse and a colorful melodic development. Zak’s voice stands out on this song, as well as on “Wake Up”, where he shows that not only can he back off and sing with a Thom Yorke type falsetto, but also a powerful shout.
He shows that not only can he back off and sing with a Thom Yorke type falsetto, but also a powerful shout.
His range is dynamic, and the EP offers a look at just about all aspects of his voice. The lack of instruments is made up by Zak’s refined way of writing a melody and complementing it on the guitar. Whether he’s laying down a chugging series of chords like in “Wake Up”, or softly plucking colorful variations like in “One Fine Day”, his melody and vocal inflections match what he’s doing so well- a nod to his experience as a songwriter.
The lyrical content bounces around, with topics remaining gloomy yet interesting. The time-setting of each song falls in either past, present, or future and the content offers a reflection on moments of time. The past references are more painfully nostalgic and sad, whereas references to the future are typically hopeful. Songs he sets in present day cover a bit of these two places on the spectrum. It’d be interesting to hear a laser-focused lyrical narrative from Zak. The EP doesn’t suffer from this though, and still offers a lot to think about in terms of the lyrical content. If you’re looking for a pleasant listen with some heavier topics, this EP is for you! Check out Zak Ward when he plays around town in the coming months! His set, solo and full-band, is not one to miss.