Album Review: Lindsay Ell - “The Continuum Project”

What started out as an exercise to help Lindsay Ell find her true self as an artist turns out to be one of the most intriguing album released in 2018.

The Continuum Project, the follow-up to Lindsay Ell’s debut album, was actually created prior to the release of The Project. When working with Kristian Bush on pre-production ideas for The Project, they talked about Lindsay’s “Desert Island” album — the album one would want with them if trapped on a desert island with no hope of being saved — and Ell chose John Mayer’s Continuum, one of his most-critically acclaimed albums. Bush suggested Ell rework the album, from top to bottom, to get a true sense of where she wants to go as an artist and the singer/songwriter and killer guitarist did it, crafting her own reworking of the album. The idea wasn’t to really ever release the raw, unpolished project but to stoke Lindsay’s creative fire to build what eventually became one of 2017’s most loved country albums, The Project. And yet, here we are, less than a year after that album’s release and we’re getting a digital release of Lindsay’s view of John Mayer’s seminal recording.

Re-imagined over the course of two weeks, Continuum became The Continuum Project. Lindsay sang every vocal, played every instrument and eventually served, obviously, as co-producer and co-engineer of the album. The album kicks off with perhaps one of the five most well-known John Mayer songs in “Waiting For The World To Change” and damn if she doesn’t do the song justice while tweaking it enough to make it her own. It is richly acoustic-based and the lyric works really well coming from Ell and the instrumental/talking breakdown is where Ell is able to take Mayer’s melodies and showcase her own star-worthy abilities as a guitarist. Another well-known, lyrical gem on the record is “Gravity.” The song is all about how everyone is trying to knock you down and included in that everyone is even yourself. You must love yourself enough to know how to say no to things you really don’t want to or need to do. Lindsay’s sanguine reading of the song adds even more depth to the song.

“The Heart Of Life” is a soulful story song which works well when paired with “Gravity.” This one is the kind of song which defends the ups and downs of life and how, even though it can feel very bad and against us at times, life really is still good at the center of it. “Stop This Train,” is another introspective track and it’s the lone tune which Ell previously shared with fans when she released the Worth The Wait EP in early 2017. “Vultures,” a bluesy tune with the kind of melody that is an obvious cousin to Ell’s breakout hit “Criminal” while “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” is a raw emotive reaction to the closing of a relationship and to hear Ell take on the song which was her favorite on the Continuum album gives musical eft and meaning.

There’s a lot to like about The Continuum Project. From the showcasing of John Mayer’s talents as a songwriter to Ell’s ability to interpret her guitar hero’s album and Ell’s own developing artistry. While it was highly possible we could’ve never heard the album (unless it became something Ell gave only to friends), I am — for one — glad the world will get to hear the ‘homework’ Kristian Bush assigned Lindsay Ell. It’s a wonderful tribute to one of her musical heroes and a nice second (first) act in her own musical career.