Lauren Ruth Ward is nothing short of a steamroller. After three short years in LA, she’s accumulated enough of a following to pack all of the local underground haunts. In fact, her recent residency at the Echoplex overflowed so much that it had to be relocated to the larger Echo. Ward’s fans are numerous and incredibly loyal, with the front row of every show often populated by the same group. This loyalty stems not only from Ward’s larger-than-life onstage presence and powerhouse voice, but more than anything from her extreme kindness. Upon first meeting the woman, it’s hard not to feel that you’ve been friends for years. Even to observe her making her way through a pre-show crowd is proof enough, as she delivers hugs, cheek kisses, and 1000-watt smiles to every other person she sees.
For Lauren Ruth Ward, it has been an exciting few days. Last Friday, her long awaited full length debut Well, Hell was released. Initially due to drop in late September last year, the album was delayed after Ward signed with Weekday Records just weeks prior to the original release date. Now that the wait is over, listeners have that many more reasons to love her, if loving her any more was possible. Ward quietly celebrated the release at a small house party known as the Treehouse series. Surrounded by twinkle lights in the backyard of an upscale Los Feliz neighborhood, she performed an abbreviated set of five songs to an intimate audience. Old friends in the front row sang proudly along to every song, including favorites like “Did I Offend You?” and new, unreleased track “Valhalla.” After conscientiously consulting with event hosts on the noise ordinance, Ward ended the show with the high energy title track “Well, Hell.”
Well, Hell is so expertly crafted that one could listen to it a hundred times without realizing it. The album vacillates smoothly between rollicking rock songs and quiet ballads, with the theme of extreme truth telling running through the whole thing. Ward is not one to pull punches, and Well, Hell is a perfect example of her ability to pour her whole heart out on the table in a way that is both profoundly personal and wholly relatable.
The curtain slowly goes up with the intoxicating “Staff Only,” a ominous track that sets the tone for the whole LP in the second line: “Why should I apologize for who you think I’m being?” With a simple two-chord progression and minimal instrumentation, the track simmers under Ward’s ever powerful belt as she delivers a pointed challenge to the listener: “You wanna throw a punch? / Well I can take a punch.” Picking things up is “Sideways,” a higher octane track that follows the trials and tribulations of Ward’s career beginnings. With a driving beat and catchy backup vocals from the rest of the band, the song discusses the difficulties of shrugging off outside judgement when endeavoring to do something big: “My disciples only happy when I’m leading / Saying it’s too late to be a crooner / I’m ok with being a late bloomer.”
“Those Letters” is a slow-burning track that delivers a cutting message seemingly meant for specific ears. However, the deeply poetic lyrics aren’t lost on the casual listener: “See I have salvaged your token / she’s safe between my knees.” Following this are several hits of the ultra catchy variety, starting with rollicking single “Make Love to Myself.” As a testament to personal empowerment, the lyrics shoot down a would-be suitor with, “Buddy I don’t need you, I can make love to myself.” Next up is “Blue Collar Sex Kitten,” a hard-rocking song that gives a middle finger to arbitrary labels with lyrics like, “I’m a dyke, dates guys, ain’t a crime, won’t apologize for my tribe.” Ward’s fiance, fellow singer-songwriter LP, joins her for “Sheet Stains,” a soulful, yet cheeky track that is all about missing one’s lover.
“Did I Offend You?” brings the album back to an introspective tone, considering the fragility of our physical existence with lyrics like, “Souls are what could break / Your skin is only walls for some odd days.” Despite the note of melancholy in the lyrics, the song remains incredibly catchy, driven along rhythmic guitar and percussion. Continuing this thoughtful streak, “Travel Man” strips down all production, featuring only acoustic guitar under Ward’s smoky vocals. Full of longing, Ward begs the subject of the song, “Oh travel man, next time you leave take me.” Never one to leave on a quiet note, Ward closes out the album with the title track, a raucous, driving song that clocks in at just under two and a half minutes. The final line of “Well, Hell” functions as a metaphorical bow, “Thank you for listening to what I have to say / I have a lot to say.”
In its tight package, Well, Hell is a short, but solid work of art, brought to life by Ward’s powerful voice and palpable passion. Together with writing partner and guitarist Eduardo Rivera, Ward has created a work that is both timely and timeless. Well, Hell’s message of empowerment is universally relatable, especially in an age of social media theatrics and FOMO. Now, more than ever, we could all use a reminder of what’s important: being unapologetically true to oneself. If ever there was a human embodiment of this sentiment, it’s Lauren Ruth Ward.