The Project is an essential album for fans who like their brand of country music black and blue. Lindsay Ell's longtime coming debut album is genre-less a la Sheryl Crow or Bonnie Raitt.

Sure, we'll call it a country album because she's on a country record label and actively working to get her single "Waiting on You" played on country radio, but some artists just transcend. Deep blues licks and aching vocals that refuse to be boxed in are signatures of the 12 songs on The Project. There's not another active female in country to compare her to — if you know who Deborah Coleman and Joanna Shaw Taylor are, go ahead and blindly buy this album and thank Ell later.

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The rest of the staunch country crowd will need to rely on the women listed in the songwriting credits. Carly Pearce and Caitlyn Smith helped write two of the most important songs on The Project ("Always Kiss the Girl" and "Space," respectively). The latter is a masterpiece — a song that blows the lid off of expectations and reveals the 28-year-old as a vocalist and storyteller every bit as strong as she is a guitarist.

Most remarkable is the album's surprising depth of sound. There is nothing vanilla about songs like "Mint," "Wildfire" and the Walker Hayes co-written "Champagne," songs that deliver on the sensory promise their titles suggest. Crow, John Mayer and Amy Winehouse are among the artists one recalls at various times. Ell is precise but never verbose, colorful but never distasteful. The lone criticism is the album's title. The Project suggests a blue collar, never-quite-done piece of utilitarian architecture. Ell's album is fresh art, ready to hang in expensive buildings.

Key Tracks: "Champagne," "Castle," "Mint," "Space," "Worth the Wait"

Did You Know?Sugarland's Kristian Bush produced this album. Before they started he made her record John Mayer's Continuum album all by herself. It was transformative.

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