Country music is a genre built on storytelling and real life. Over the past few years, that definition has been watered down by some. It’s not that modern country isn’t fun or meaningful; it’s just that often artists are afraid to “go there” like they used to — they’re afraid to step on people’s toes. Lindsay Ell bared it all on her phenomenal sophomore project heart theory. Sonically, she made a stellar current country-pop record with influences of rock and blues, but conceptually, it’s as country as could be.
heart theory successfully covers the seven stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. Ell explores everything from a breakup that ended badly to working through trauma to finding yourself on the 12-track project. “If theory is the science of music, heart theory is the science of a heart,” Ell said of the record. “I hope this roadmap can be a comfort if you need it, reassurance when you need to remember to believe in yourself or maybe just a glimpse into a memory that’s made you who you are.”
“how good” falls under the denial category and is a groovy, almost funk-pop inspired Brandy Clark co-write. Her vocal range is on full display, from a controlled, mellow verse to a soaring chorus. “You don’t know how good I could love you/Boy if you just would let me love you/You might not think you should/but if I were you I would”, she sings on the chorus.
Ell shows off her bolder side on the three-song anger stage. “wAnt me back”, the current single is an addictively catchy tune. She tells her ex that she knows she’s worth it in a relationship, and if she were in his shoes, she’d miss her too. “You ain’t gonna find nobody like me/I’m the best you ever had and I’m always gonna be, so/If I were you… if I were you/I’d want me back too.”
Sitting in the middle of the album is the fourth stage: bargaining. Written by Ell, Sam Ellis, and Laura Veltz is “body language of a breakup”, a clever representation of watching a relationship fall apart from the outside. Although there are plenty of songs about breakups, this hits the nail right on the head in a completely fresh way. The craftsmanship of heart theory is incredibly unique. None of the 12 tracks sound exactly like something heard on the radio, yet at the same time, they all feel familiar. The lyrics are smartly written, and with Ell’s guitar solos that catch you off guard in the best way, it makes it even more interesting. She’s clearly grown as a writer and artist since her debut, The Project.
The most vulnerable and heartbreaking moment is the second-to-last song, “make you”, which is filed under acceptance. Written by Ell and Clark, is Ell’s story of being a sexual assault survivor. At 13, and again at 21, she was raped. When she decided to make an album as personal as heart theory, she knew she had to tell her story. “I called Brandy, an absolute wordsmith and songwriter genius, and asked her if she would write this song with me. She fearlessly and immediately said yes,” Ell said in a press release. “The day we wrote ‘make you’ I knew we had written something special that will hopefully help others to not feel alone in their survival. And more personally, it was finally the moment in my life where I got to validate that little girl inside – letting her know that ‘I see her and I love her.”
The album ends on a hopeful note. “ReadY to love” is an empowering, upbeat jam about owning who you are and taking back the power after being hurt so many times before. “I’m ready to love again/Ready to trust again/Ready to put my heart back out there/If your heart is out there”, she sings on the chorus. It’s at this moment that you can hear how truly free Ell feels.
Lindsay Ell has been making music for more than half of her life, and with each release, she digs deeper. Not letting a genre or sound define her, she poured her heart out and it paid off big time. Part of what makes this an outstanding and authentic record is that it is the very definition of three chords and the truth. She shared the ups and downs of life, letting every scar show and heal. As she sings on her cover of John Mayer’s “The Heart of Life”, “Pain throws your heart to the ground/Love turned the whole thing around/No, it won’t all go the way it should/But I know the heart of life is good.”
heart theory Track List
a journey through the seven stages of grief
1. “Hits me” (Lindsay Ell, Tyler Hubbard, Corey Crowder)
2. “how good” (Lindsay Ell, Brandy Clark)
3. “i don’t lovE you” (Adam Hambrick, Melissa Fuller, Neil Medley)
4. “wAnt me back” (Lindsay Ell, Kane Brown, Matt McGinn, Lindsay Rimes)
5. “get oveR you” (Lindsay Ell, Gordie Sampson, Kelly Archer)
6. “wrong girl” (Lindsay Ell, Steph Jones, Matt McGinn, Luke Niccoli)
7. “body language of a breakup” (Lindsay Ell, Laura Veltz, Sam Ellis)
8. “good on you” (Lindsay Ell, Sam Ellis, Micah Premnath)
9. “The oTHEr side” (Lindsay Ell, Jessie Jo Dillon, Matt McGinn)
10. “gO to” (Lindsay Ell, Nicolle Gaylon, Jordan Reynolds)
11. “make you” (Lindsay Ell, Brandy Clark)
12. “ReadY to love” (Lindsay Ell, Jessie Jo Dillon, Matt McGinn, Joey Hyde)
NYCS Staff Picks:
“i don’t lovE you”
“ReadY to love”
“wAnt me back”
‘heart theory’ is now available everywhere you buy or stream music. Take a listen below and check out more new recently released music here on our ‘New Country Music’ playlist. Be sure to give the playlist a follow for your weekly new country music fix.
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