If you were to look up persistence and hard work in the dictionary, there’s a good chance you’d find a picture of Lindsay Ell. The Canadian Country singer, songwriter and musician has had a fairly lengthy road to the top but in the past 12 months she finally got that breakthrough she’s deserved for years. Her album The Project, her first for Stoney Creek Records in the US, garnered widespread critical acclaim and it’s produced two hits so far in the shape of Waiting on You and current single Criminal. As Ell prepares to perform at C2C: Country to Country 2018 this weekend, BMG are reissuing the album in the UK as a physical release with all-new artwork.
It’s true that The Project has been out a few months now digitally but as I didn’t get the opportunity to review it that time round, I thought I’d highlight this gem of an album now it’s getting a proper UK release. For the record Ell worked with Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, who produced, and it’s clear that his influence and direction has allowed Ell the time and space she needed to really find her own sound. Opening track, and first single, Waiting on You is a soulful track with a laidback groove that showcases all of Ell’s abilities. Her masterful guitar skills, influenced in part by John Mayer, are at the heart of the song and for the most part the heart of the entire record.
The Project is an album that defies classification. For marketing purposes it’s packaged as Country but the truth is that Ell is a bit of a musical chameleon. There’s pop, rock, soul, rhythm and blues and Country in the mix, which makes for a varied and exciting listen. The loop-driven Champagne is a joyful burst as Ell thanks a lover for making her feel special whereas the pulsing beat of Good finds her exploring the idea that a better period of life has finally arrived.
Current single Criminal is a definite highlight on the album. Ell’s distinctive vocals drive the verses as she plays a guitar riff you won’t be able to get out of your head once you’ve heard it. The chorus builds to a crescendo that Sheryl Crow would be proud of and it’s one of the more commercially-leaning tracks on the record. Another standout is the atmospheric Castle where Ell comments on our need as a society to always want better than we have. It’s a poignant message that we can all relate to.
Elsewhere on the record Carly Pearce is credited as a co-writer on the romantic Always Kiss the Girl, Kelsea Ballerini co-wrote the almost bluesy White Noise and Wildfire is one of the best showcases of Ell’s remarkable guitar playing abilities.
My favourite track on the record is Space, which was co-written by rising Country star Caitlyn Smith. I remember Ell playing it at her show at The Borderline in London during Country Music Week and her vocal on the track is stellar. With a more stripped-back production, her voice takes the spotlight and she packs a lot more power vocally that you might expect based on the singles she’s released so far. Her performance is guttural and you feel every word she’s singing.
The Project is the kind of album that you’ll keep coming back to and with every listen you’ll uncover a new layer. Ell is a very gifted musician and she’s definitely found her groove on this record. I was blown away by this record, even more so when I saw her live, and The Project definitely has the legs to give her a solid breakthrough in the UK. As women are finally claiming back their rightful place on the charts, it’s artists like Ell that are paving the way and raising the bar at the same time.
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Track listing: 1. Waiting on You 2. Champagne 3. Castle 4. Good 5. Wildfire 6. Mint 7. White Noise 8. Criminal 9. Just Another Girl 10. Space 11. Always Kiss the Girl 12. Worth the Wait Record label: BMG Release date: 9th March 2018