After breakthrough artist Lindsay Ell released her debut EP titled Worth the Wait just three months ago, fans were already begging for more. After a lot of hype and much anticipation, Ell’s full length album entitled The Project was finally released on Friday, August 11th, and people are freaking out over it. Social media has exploded the last few days with status updates, tweets and Instagram photos expressing only the most positive feedback and highest praises for Ell’s grand slam of a first album. Adoring fans, fellow peers, and major artists, including Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley, have all showered her with nothing but endless love and support for what should no doubt be considered a serious contender for Album of the Year.
Ell’s fellow label-mate/writer/producer and one half of the award-winning country duo Sugarland, Kristian Bush, produced both the EP and the album, but not before making the 28-year-old go through a kind of “record boot camp” first. Bush, who Ell affectionately refers to as her “Yoda in the studio” took a different approach when it came to producing this guitar slaying singer’s new music. After asking Ell for her all-time favorite record (Continuum by John Mayer), he then told her to go record it in their label’s studio and play all of the instruments herself. After clearing her schedule from 8am – 3am for two weeks, Ell finished recording her own version of the popular Mayer album and in the process, discovered her own voice, as well as the kind of artist and musician she really is. The end result is an album that Ell always wanted to make, full of songs she believes in wholeheartedly. Not only does Ell love the album, but so does everyone else who’s heard it, and for good reason.
Featuring nine songs co-written by the Canadian native herself, including one that she and Bush wrote together, The Project perfectly represents the incredibly talented, multi-dimensional artist that Ell truly is. By crossing musical genres with a technique so natural it somehow looks completely effortless, and magically transforming normal emotions into these unique anecdotes and personal confessions that unfold so eloquently, Ell has managed to create an album that is essentially genre-less because it defies all musical odds. Where other artists take risks in music to experiment with their sound, Ell throws formulas and risks out the window and lets passion guide her. This is why no two songs on The Project sound the same. They each have their own distinct identity while still maintaining a certain cohesiveness that allows them to flow seamlessly into one another while never disrupting the overall vibe of the album.
When it came time to choose songs to fill in the rest of the album, Bush told her to “cut songs you know you would never write yourself.” With that said, Ell reached out to fellow female singer-songwriters and close friends, Caitlyn Smith, Carly Pearce, and Kelsea Ballerini to write the three remaining tracks needed to complete The Project. The three songs written by these incredibly talented and strong women are without question three of the most powerful tracks on the album. “Space,” “Always Kiss the Girl,” and “White Noise,” add even more heart to the already emotion filled, eclectic work of art that is The Project. Ell’s decision to include female penned tracks on her album is no doubt about promoting girl power, not just in the country music world, which is currently male dominated, but in all aspects of life.
The Project opens with the first single off the album and what I feel like can now be described as a Lindsay Ell signature guitar lick. “Waiting on You” vigorously describes the blossoming but often frustrating beginning stages of a relationship with an edgy bounce to it that has blues and pop colliding in ways we never even imagined. Ell’s slick guitar riffs and powerhouse vocals set the overall tone of the new album with a bold, “This is who I am, take it or leave it” type of statement. The next track on The Project, which already has fans gushing over it, is the swanky and classy, “Champagne.” As Ell described it to fans at her CD release show at Bub City in Chicago, the song is about how every woman wants to feel. With a smooth, almost jazz like vibe to it, “Champagne” instantly transports you to a flashy, Hollywood style party complete with red carpet and paparazzi. Co-written with new artist Walker Hayes, Ell’s vocals really help paint the scene and take the song to another level as she croons the lyrics, “you make me feel/like Jessica Biel/steppin’ out of a stretch/diamonds huggin’ my neck/for the paparazzi got me like/I’m droppin’ the mic/so naturally diva/just call me Aretha for real.”
After turning up the sass on “Champagne,” Ell turns shakes things up on the next track that follows. Thought provoking and insightful, “Castle” tackles more serious subject matter that brings to light a sad truth that hovers over society like a dark cloud, which is our hunger for more, no matter how much we already have. Ell’s suggestion to just be happy and content with what we have is made clear in her blunt, yet aesthetically written lyrics set to a groovy guitar riff. Positivity and rainbows are at the core of the fourth track on The Project, as Ell vividly describes what it’s like “turning troubles upside down” on “Good.” While its bubbly tempo and story like lyrics make this song one of the most upbeat on the album, it’s Ell’s inspiring optimism that really drives the song home. Meanwhile, “Wildfire” takes things up one more notch and brings out Ell’s inner rockstar. By far the heaviest track on the album, this firecracker of a song also features one hell of a guitar solo that only further solidifies Ell’s rightful place among music’s best and her own personal guitar heroes.
Sliding in with its funky beat and cleverly crafted lyrics, “Mint” may just be the most unique song on The Project. Playing on the different meanings of the word, Ell cheerfully describes all the ways her relationship is, you guessed it, “Mint.” The lighthearted, breeziness felt on the album up until now fades as we hit “White Noise,” the first of the non-Ell penned tracks. This heartbreaking, but beautifully written song accurately describes what it’s like to miss someone so much that everything else around you just sounds like static. What follows is the flirty confession of someone who has fallen completely head over heels in love and has compared the feeling to that of something “Criminal.” Ell’s descriptive lyrics and passionate vocals make for a very relatable song that will have you hitting Repeat over and over again.
On “Just Another Girl,” Ell uses candid lyrics to talks herself out of a stereotypical self-pity party after another breakup because she “doesn’t wear bitter well.” Written by Caitlyn Smith, “Space” leaves us with a giant hole in our hearts as Ell’s aching vocals leave us haunted, confused, and longing for what once was. A ray of light comes shining through, though, when we reach the buoyancy of “Always Kiss the Girl,” that stems from the fresh pen of Miss Carly Pearce. Composed in an almost instructional way, this song is fun in one of the simplest forms. It playfully describes how a girl should be treated, and the complexities that go along with the process. The Project comes to a breathtaking close as this is where Ell is at her most vulnerable. “Worth the Wait” is by far the most raw, real and relatable song on the album, and there’s no doubt it’s because the song is a direct reflection of Ell’s personal life. With powerful lyrics like, “your love is like a ghost I can’t get my hands around,” Ell perfectly captures the essence of what it means to love someone so much that you can’t imagine doing anything but waiting for them.
Since the release of The Project, critics and fans have been comparing Ell to equally talented female music legends Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow, seemingly because of her impressive vocal range and extraordinary guitar shredding, and rightfully so. It doesn’t take an Einstein to see that Ell is already skilled well beyond her 28 years, making her more than qualified to be labeled a up and coming artist. In fact, I think it’s only fair and just to state that Lindsay Ell is the female version of John Mayer. The similarities are so blatantly obvious that I don’t know why someone else hasn’t already made this observation. Mayer is a phenomenal guitar player, impeccable songwriter, and from what I’ve heard, one hell of a performer. He’s so musically diverse that it’s impossible to nail him down to just one genre of music, as Mayer himself admitted so during his interview on the Bobby Bones show the same week Ell’s album was released.
From vocal range to guitar shredding and artistic songwriting, Ell’s musical talent is limitless and on full display for all to finally hear on The Project. She may be lumped into the country category, but this is one artist who just cannot be boxed in to fit one genre of music. Artists like Ell and Mayer are so rare and unique that they end up changing music. They’re the artists that people look back on later in life and say, “They were one of the greats.” When I think of these two artists and how their music doesn’t necessarily “fit the format,” I can’t help but remember a story my mother told me about when Frankie Valli (of The Four Seasons) first released his solo song, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” At the time, his record label didn’t even want to release the song, in fear it wouldn’t do well. People were afraid to play the song on the radio because it was just too different, and nobody knew where it fit genre wise. Frankie insisted the song would catch on if someone gave it a chance. In his eyes, it was that simple.
If I’m remembering the story correctly, it took ONE radio DJ locking himself in the On Air studio and playing the song over and over, and talking about what an amazing song it was. Before that station manager could find a way into the studio to stop that DJ, the song had caught on like wildfire. There was no stopping it, and all it took was one person who believed in the song enough and had the guts to do what nobody else would. You see, it’s not about finding songs and artists that fit the format. It’s about changing the format to fit the song and the artist. Albums like The Project and artists like Lindsay Ell are well worth breaking the “rules” for. It’s important to get behind these types of artists early on so that we as music fans and consumers actually get a chance to see what else they have up their creative sleeves and are capable of. No doubt, we can expect more excellence from Lindsay Ell.