A few years back, there was a big hit on country radio, “Most People Are Good.” The song, ironically, was not so good, but buried beneath the cornpone and cliches was a worthwhile reminder that most of us out here are flawed, but decent, folks. On her debut album, Queen of Nothing, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Lindsay Ellyn takes a more nuanced look at both our best intentions and our foul-ups along the way.
Ellyn’s tour of our best and our mess takes off from the album’s lead track, “Dirty Fingers.” Over a chiming guitar bed, she evokes the image of soiled hands dipping into holy water, trying to wash away past (and future) transgressions, and hitting the mark most succinctly in the line “We’re full of good intentions and full of sh!t.” “Somebody Love Those Girls” addresses perceived imperfections – women who choose their own path in their own time. Reflecting a bit of her own young adulthood while living in New York, Ellyn sings of scattershot attempts to find love or a rough approximation. It’s a time in life when our decision-making skills haven’t fully matured – “She’ll go her own way – the right or wrong way” – but the song asks for acceptance, not scorn, of these young women slip-sliding their way toward being a grown-up.
Mortality, and where we go after that, is also on Ellyn’s mind. “Glory, Glory” begins with a full-on Sunday morning chorus before kicking into a country stomp as the song asks what’s more important: living a good life without all the trappings of the church – “She wasn’t graced by the water/Can she still be your daughter?” – or living like a wreck before accepting God later on – “And my Daddy, he’s got a soft spot for bad habits…But he’s heard your song and he’s been righting his wrongs.” Ellyn has a personal stake in this question, as these two characters represent her mother and father, and she wonders where she’ll go and whether her parents might be there – “I’ll spread my wings and fly in the end…will you be there to greet me?” All the seriousness is balanced out by a kick-ass guitar/organ trade-off, because what’s Heaven without good music?
Ellyn also checks in with the less-than-reputable characters still here on Earth. “Hard to Forget” looks at the slightly broken kids who come from busted-up parents – “She’s a prom queen hater, an instigator, the kind of trouble-you-wanna-be-in maker.” In Ellyn’s world (growing up in a New Jersey apartment complex) these were the kids you followed, admired, maybe even envied, and they ended up making a mark on you that won’t go away – “I always hoped life went on to treat her kinder.” But the troublemaker is “Raising Hell” is a less-kind reflection of Ellyn herself – the scorned girlfriend. Rolling in on a sleazy country groove and with the singer’s vocals distorted and angry, the Miranda Lambert-esque tale of revenge against “that” guy – “Causing trouble and sleeping double” – ends up with the flawed (but still decent) protagonist burning that damn cheater’s house down. Because, in a proper country song, that’s what you do.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Raising Hell” – probably from the back of the room, near the emergency exit.
Queen of Nothing was produced by Brendan St. Gelais, mixed by Kyle Dreaden and mastered by Brian Lucey. All songs were written by Lindsay Ellyn. Additional musicians on the album include St. Gelais (B3 organ, piano, acoustic guitar, mellotron, percussion, air organ, bass, programming, background vocals), Jake Finch (drums, percussion, gong, Baldwin Discoverer keyboard, grand piano, Wurlitzer, celeste, tack piano), Andrew Brown (bass), Taylor Alexander (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, background vocals), Austin Webb (electric guitar, 12 string guitar, high strung acoustic guitar, electric mandotar, ganjo, high strung electric sitar), Reed Pittman (B3 organ), Sam Wilson (pedal steel), Tom Schreck (accordion), John Collins McLaughlin (violin) and Ellie Turner, Kiely Connell and Jason Eskridge (background vocals).
Go here to order Queen of Nothing – https://music.apple.com/us/album/queen-of-nothing/1554232552?app=itunes&ign-mpt=uo%3D4 – or stream on Apple Music or Spotify.