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'Heart Theory' Review: Lindsay Ell speaks from the heart in a raw and emotive journey through trauma and grief

'Theory is the science of music, heart theory is the science of a heart,' says Ell as she guides the listener through shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance
Lindsay Ell (courtesy of artiste/Jeremy Cowart)
Lindsay Ell (courtesy of artiste/Jeremy Cowart)

Canadian country singer Lindsay Ell will be releasing her latest album, 'Heart Theory', on Friday, August 14, via Stoney Creek. The rising star has come a long way in just three years, wowing listeners with her striking voice and blend of Americana blues, rock and pop. Her debut full-length album, 'The Project', was released in 2017 and debuted at No. 1 on the country sales chart. Since then, Lindsay has performed with the likes of Mellissa Etheridge, Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Billy Ray Cyrus, Billy Gibbons and Robert Randolph, besides touring with Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and Sugarland. On top of that, she is a three-time ACM nominee and also recently gained her first No. 1 hit with 'What Happens in a Small Town', a 2019 duet with Brantley Gilbert.

Lindsay Ell (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Robert Thivierge)

Despite all this glowing success, things were still falling into place for Lindsay Ell. “The past couple of years, I’ve been through a lot,” she admitted. “A public break-up took me through all of the stages of heartbreak, I turned 30, I had a health scare and countless other hurdles. And I came out the other side as a full human. There are moments when life just smacks you in the face and you need to do the work of figuring out what that means, how it changed you, and how to take full control of your life.” The result of these losses and obstacles comes in the form of her new album 'Heart Theory', produced by Dann Huff. It guides the listener through the seven stages of grief, namely through shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance. “Theory is the science of music, heart theory is the science of a heart,” Ell explained. “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,” the singer stated. It's also interesting to note that certain letters in the tracklisting have been capitalized to spell out "Heart Theory".

Cover art for 'Heart Theory'(courtesy of artiste)

The nimble and groovy album opener, 'Hits Me', talks about how one copes with the shock of losing one's lover. "I'm happy till it hits me / We're nothing but history / It's too late to go back there again / We're better off as friends," she laments. As Lindsay admitted, "For a period of my life, I would hit these triggers. I would turn on the radio or hear someone say a familiar name and all the memories would rush to my head in an instant. The feelings of regret and disappointment in a relationship that I thought for sure was ‘the one’ was over."

The next phase of love and loss is denial, which Lindsay articulates on the funky and bouncy 'How Good'. "You don't know how good I could love you...We'll never know if you don't give it a try." As Lindsay admitted, "You can only pretend you’re happy for so long, as you’re trying to avoid the inevitable voice inside your head. This is written as a happy love song that makes you want to dance, but if I am being honest it was written from a place of me trying to tell myself I was good at loving someone, when really I knew this was the beginning of denial."


On the emotive and heart-rending 'I Don't Love You', Lindsay takes her feelings further into denial territory. "I fight to convince myself / I don't love you anymore / But I still miss you sometimes," she admits. This was the only track that Ell didn't pen on the album, with writing credits going to Adam Hambrick, Melissa Fuller and Neil Medley. "I think that our hearts have space to love certain people for the rest of our life. Maybe we’re not supposed to be together and maybe you don’t want to get back together with them, but somewhere deep down inside, you will always love them," she explained.      

Meanwhile, the soaring 'Want Me Back' is glowing with self-empowerment and indignation. "If I were you, I know that losing me would make me lose my mind / You ain't gonna find nobody like me / I'm the best you ever had, and I'm always gonna be / If I were you, I'd want me back too." As Ell revealed, “I love watching people step into their own power,” and added, “It is one of the most inspiring moments to watch someone finally see their full potential.” Ell co-wrote this inspiring track with hit-maker Kane Brown along with Matt McGinn and Lindsay Rimes.


'Get Over You' explores the emotional outpouring of anger and frustration, as Ell comes to terms with her loss. "I know what I want / It used to be you / You said to move on, and I did / Now it's your turn to get over you." As the singer explained, "It’s only healthy to feel and recognize your emotions. In order to fully heal and let go of something, you sometimes need to briefly get angry. The hardest part is finally pouring out all the frustration you’ve had bottled up for a while. Also, breakups are messy... it’s the ebb and flow of letting go."

On the intense track 'Wrong Girl', Ell sounds like she's had enough of a selfish, insensitive lover. "You've got the wrong girl... I'm better than that, I know what I deserve," she seethes. The singer revealed, "I started to notice all the areas of my life where I was letting people walk all over me. Although rooted in a moment of anger, 'Wrong Girl' is about a female-to-female conversation (she wrote the song for a friend) where you finally feel strong enough to stand up for yourself."


Meanwhile, on 'Body Language Of A Break Up', Ell expounds on the perplexing bargaining stage that exes often enter into. "Nobody wants to hurt nobody / So we hang on just enough / He thinks she'll forgive him / She thinks that they're gonna kiss and make up / But that's the body language of a breakup." As Ell confessed, "This song centers around the stories we tell ourselves when we can’t see from a clear perspective. It’s the web of bargaining going on in our brain."

With the bittersweet and vulnerable 'Good On You', Ell talks about entering the melancholy and depressive phase of a breakup. "Your needle's found that groove / You got a new girl, looks good on you / She's rocking your world, good on you / I told you to be happy, but I hate how happy looks so good on you." As Ell confessed, "A part of you inside dies a little bit when you finally realize the inevitable - that they may be better off without you. You’re so happy for them and so sad for yourself. You hate it, but ultimately love it in the end." 


With the candid and blissful 'The Other Side', Lindsay seems to have found the light at the end of the tunnel, as she tests out the waters for the first time without her lover, on the other side of sad. "You get to the other side and it feels like a sweet, sunny, '70s groove. You finally come to the conclusion that your life isn’t over without that person. You realize in fact that the rest of your life is a fresh start right in the palm of your hands. That first morning you wake up and feel this way, damn, it feels really good."

On the rousing 'Go To', Lindsay strengthens her positive outlook further, as she focuses on what she really wants out of life. As the singer stated, "This is everything you want to feel in a relationship. You learn from things that you didn’t have in past relationships and they help you rewrite your prescription for the future. It’s the upward turn where you begin to realize where you’re headed."   

Logo for Lindsay Ell's Make You Movement, which focuses on disenfranchised youth and survivors of sexual trauma and domestic abuse (Courtesy of artiste)

The courageous and deeply moving 'Make You' (co-written with Brandy Clark) sees Lindsay reclaiming her life after being traumatically raped as a little girl, something she had never publicly talked about before. But she has now accepted the hand that life dealt her, and admits, “Holding pieces of our story back means missing out on the opportunity to feel inspired, changed, drawn to make a difference. I got into this business to change people, to make them feel something. So, it was important to me to get really honest and say that all of us have skeletons in the closet, but those things make us who we are.”

On the joyous album closer, 'Ready To Love', Lindsay is finally ready to let her guard down and let go of past attachments. "I'm ready to love again, ready to trust again / Ready to put my heart back out there, if your heart is out there." As the singer revealed, "This song is about finding that true reconciliation. You have done the work. You have reconstructed your self-worth. You understand that the feeling of acceptance isn’t built on permanence but on the journey of it. The path you just paved can be paved again. You’re not married to the outcome, but the process of finding what’s right. You have found the power of truly be open."


This is truly a raw, vulnerable, candid and emotional journey, and Lindsay Ell takes us through a dizzying array of emotions with class and aplomb. "I’ve learned to care a little less about what everybody thinks," admitted the singer. "Following my gut instinct, truly saying what I want to say - that’s the magic, the elements that make you relatable and real. Before, I was worrying about writing for radio, for fans, but now this is what I know, this is my journey. And the more honest I get, the more effective it is."