In summer I always crave a big sugary country pop album – one that has ambition, blends contemporary sounds with quality songwriting and real personality. Last year Maren’s ‘Girl’ did the trick and this summer that album is ‘Heart Theory’ by Lindsay Ell. I’ve always admired Lindsay as a rare mainstream artist in the country genre who is known equally for her guitar playing as her vocals. It really depresses me to see women putting their instruments aside to appeal to the mainstream charts. So I am happy to report that this new album ‘Heart Theory’ sounds a million times better than most big Nashville pop releases because of Ell’s fantastic guitar riffs.
The album is structured through the seven stages of grief, with songs representing her journey to find acceptance and reconcile her troubled past. All the song titles have random capitalisations too, spelling out the story of the album title. Hits me opens the album with a smooth, contemporary song where she is in shock, trying to cope with heartbreak.
Being in denial about the end of her relationship is the core of the brilliant ‘how good‘ co-written with Brandy Clark, a songwriter who just can’t fail to bring the best out of any artist. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long to hear Lindsay shred this one live.
Lindsay’s talent on guitar is central to her appeal for me but that’s not to say she doesn’t have the pipes – on the stunning ‘i don’t lovE you’ she belts out a power ballad with vocals Faith Hill would be proud of.
‘wAnt me back’ is the big single and it’s a nice mix of catchy, classic and contemporary. Another one which should be a hit is the brilliantly spiky break up song ‘get oveR you’.
I understand her need to write songs that appeal to modern audiences but for me this album really thrives when she leans into a more retro soft rock feel, like on ‘wrong girl‘ and ‘body language of a breakup‘.
The song which first intrigued me about this project was ‘make you‘, another co-write with Brandy Clark. Written in response to a traumatic incident in Ell’s past, this is a brave and powerful ballad about survival and strength. By the end of the album she has found peace and on ‘readY to love’ she has renewed faith for the future.
Heart Theory is a brave, bright and bold blast of an album. Lindsay Ell sounds increasingly confident in her own voice and her own musical style. Sure the music isn’t really very traditionally ‘country’ at all but if that’s the only genre you like then maybe just get over yourself and give this one a chance.
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