Grooving, diverse, and emotionally charged, it’s easy to hear what Ell means. The Project reveals every aspect of her abundant talent – from her fiery guitar prowess to her crisp, inviting vocals … and even her new knack for vulnerable song craft.
It’s funky, bluesy, and full of pop-country sweetness, but also delicate and – at times – brutally honest, as Ell’s heart is placed front and center on each track. She embraces the anything-goes fun of country’s future but also holds fast to its traditions, focusing on real instruments and co-writing nine of The Project’s songs to create something both unique and self-assured.
For the first time, Ell’s music feels 100 percent “Lindsay,” and part of the reason for that is the growing up she’s done over the past few years.
The young star has traveled the world with The Band Perry and Luke Bryan, showcased her multi-instrumental dexterity as one of CMT’s Next Women of Country, and is currently trading guitar solos with Brad Paisley on his 2017 Weekend Warrior World Tour. Plus, she and country radio personality Bobby Bones went public about falling for each other, leading to an outpouring of support and inspiring her to open up like never before on her critically-acclaimed 2017 EP, Worth the Wait.
“The album has helped me dig even deeper into that identity,” she explains. “With Worth the Wait I had something to say, writing real songs with real lyrics. But now I’ve kicked it up a notch. I still have really important lyrics, but The Project has groove and lots of guitar solos – I let my musical brain free.”
Crediting Bush with making her ask what kind of artist she really wanted to be, Ell says “You can tell when it clicks into gear.” Bush gave her a deceptively simple task before getting to work on The Project – recording her own version of her all-time favorite record, note for note and completely alone. For Ell, that record is John Mayer’s Continuum, and after locking herself in a studio for two weeks straight, she had a musical epiphany.
“It made me realize that I love music when it’s great, and simple,” she says. “When it’s great, it can stay simple – it doesn’t need to be that complicated.”
Well aware of Ell’s reputation as one of country’s most electrifying entertainers, Bush also sought to keep things simple. He recorded her with a live band as much as possible, letting her do what she does best.
“The funk aspects, the blues and the rock aspects are really where my influences lie,” she says. “When I pick up a guitar, that’s what makes my heart smile. But I’ve also gotten to a point in my life – professionally and personally – where I’m just more open, and I’m not afraid to talk about it in songwriting.”
The Project’s first single, “Waiting on You,” is the perfect combination of those traits, basking in slippery guitar grooves and real-life romantic optimism. Longtime fan favorite “Criminal” follows suit, swaying under the invincible armor of fresh love, while the wounded “Worth the Wait” holds out hope that some things really are meant to be.
“Champagne” shows off Ell’s personal swagger – complete with a strutting horn section and a message about the proper way to treat a woman. “Mint” features a refreshing, carefree beat, and the sugary pop of “Good” reveals Ell’s cautious joy as her dreams come true. “It’s so scary for things to work out,” she says with a nervous laugh.
Meanwhile, “Wildfire” burns with the same passionate intensity Ell displays onstage, “Space” takes a vocally-stunning look at long-distance relationships – whether physical or emotional – and “White Noise” explores the glazed over, hallow feeling of a bad breakup. That powerful track was written by hit makers Kelsea Ballerini, Ross Copperman, and Josh Kear.
“There’s a rawness in a slow groove like that,” says Ell. “The vocal is gritty and you’re talking about a heart being broken, trying to think of anything but that, and everything else in life seems like white noise. I feel like that’s something we can all connect to.”
Another track many will relate to – and one which speaks directly to The Project’s theme of self-discovery – is “Just Another Girl.” Ell wrote the tune with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, but even with a bouncy country beat and sunny steel guitar, its lyrics are deeply meaningful. It’s all about making sure your true calling doesn’t slip away.
“I really believe everybody has their own story and their own path of brilliance ahead of them,” Ell explains, hinting at the her own winding journey. “It’s a song of not settling for things, careers, or even emotions that you’re having, just because they happen to you all the time. It’s about knowing you’re meant for something more special than that.”
With her long-awaited album debut, Lindsay Ell has discovered what she was meant for, and who she really is. Her next “project” will be to pass that message on.