It’s hard to believe that we’re in the year 2017 and women in Country music is still a hot topic. Despite releasing some of the best music in the genre, women are often ignored at Country radio with only a small handful managing to pick up any radio play. Despite being critically acclaimed and having a rather huge buzz around her, Lindsay Ell is the latest female artist to be shunned by Country radio and was recently dropped from a radio appearance because she happens to be dating influential radio personality Bobby Bones. It’s pretty unbelievable, especially when Ell is quite clearly a huge star in the making with plenty to offer.
Last night Ell headlined The Borderline as part of Country Music Week and she gave the eager audience a solo show. Having released her first full-length album The Project back in August, Ell had plenty of material to draw on last night and she delivered a set packed with songs from the record alongside a handful of covers. Opening the set with Wildfire, Ell was immediately captivating as she displayed her guitar mastery and passionate vocals. The chatter in the audience went immediately and aside from clapping and cheering, I barely heard another word spoken throughout the entire set.
It became clear very quickly that this was no ordinary artist I was watching on stage. Ell has worked hard from a young age to get a break in the industry and quite frankly it’s baffling that it’s taken her this long and that she’s not one of the biggest artists in Country music. With a smile beaming throughout the set and a personality that is big and infectious, Ell was a warm presence on stage and she couldn’t hide her passion. You could see the passion flowing out from her with every guitar riff and lyric. She was so connected to the material, whether it was her own or a cover, and watching her was truly spectacular.
Current single Waiting on You was an early highlight in the set. The bluesy number, which recalls Sheryl Crow in her early career, is so damn catchy that I couldn’t stop my foot tapping. Ell’s vocal is so passionate and heartfelt that I got shivers pretty much for the entirety of the performance. Elsewhere Ell tackled John Mayer’s Slow Dancing in a Burning Room and told the audience that she had recorded her own version of his album Continuum, which would be released at some point in the future.
Throughout the set Ell paid homage to her musical influences with a show-stopping acoustic rendition of Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel, a rockier take on Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and a section where she played riffs from well-known songs such as Sweet Home Alabama and Walk This Way. Before watching her perform live I knew Ell was a guitar wizard but good lord is she incredible. I was mesmerised with every solo and she made it all look so easy.
Away from the covers, Ell’s original material really held its own. From the rhythmic Champagne, where Ell recorded a loop live on stage, through to celebrating the positive things in life on Good, the set was packed with catchy songs that perfectly showcased Ell’s artistry. The influences on her music were evident and she displayed an impressive range and versatility. Castle drew from John Mayer, a firm favourite and hero of Ell’s, while Criminal was one of the more mainstream Country moments in the set that would fit perfectly alongside the likes of Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris.
My favourite moment came on Space, which is a vocally demanding song. You could hear the grit in Ell’s voice as she hit the big notes and sang from the pit of her stomach. It was a spectacular moment to witness. The show ended with By the Way, a song the audience requested when they pretty much demanded Ell come back on stage for an encore.
I see a lot of live music but last night was one of those occasions where I felt I was witnessing something truly special. I haven’t seen a performance so passionate and connected since Chris Stapleton floored everyone at C2C: Country to Country back in 2016. Lindsay Ell is a remarkable talent who by rights should be the biggest breakout star in Country music right now. Hopefully Country radio will get past its sexist view of women in the genre and start championing artists like Ell, especially when she’s delivering some of the best music the genre has seen in a long time. If they don’t, she’ll always have a place here in the UK willing to appreciate and celebrate her incredible talents.
Set list: 1. Wildfire 2. Mint 3. Waiting on You 4. Champagne 5. Slow Dancing in a Burning Room (John Mayer cover) 6. Good 7. The Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson cover) 8. Castle 9. Guitar riff section 10. Superstition (Stevie Wonder cover) 11. Space 12. Criminal 13. By the Way Performance date: 4th October 2017