Album Reviews

Nikki Lane

Highway Queen

Artist:     Nikki Lane

Album:     Highway Queen

Label:     New West

Release Date:     02/17/2017

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The irreverent, sassy, rock n’ roller decked out in country duds returns with her third album. 2014’s All of Nothin’ garnered much acclaim for Nikki Lane, so this one comes with high anticipation. After just two albums, she has already become the leading female voice for Outlaw Country, reminding me a bit of how Gretchen Wilson took that world by storm several years ago. But, unlike Wilson, Lane is a clever songsmith with a kickass band. These qualities, coupled with her entrepreneurial role for the popular vintage clothing boutique High Class Hillbilly, speak to her high level of self-confidence. She has the enduring spirit of singers like Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson, both of whom are still performing. And, she has the looks and an unabashed “don’t mess with me” style that draws viewers to her videos too. Yes, I think Lane will be with us for a good, long time.

A Greenville, South Carolina native, her restless nature and failed relationships have kept her on the run. She’s lived in Los Angeles, New York and now Nashville. Her music is similar in some respects. She’s difficult to pin down –Is she country? Is she Americana? Is she a rocker? Is she a pop star? She has her own seamless, incomparable genre-crossing sound. It’s very infectious, even when she sings about despairing subjects, as she often does.

These ten songs, mostly three-four minutes in length, were co-produced by Lane and fellow singer-songwriter Jonathan Tyler. The sessions were recorded in Denton, TX and in Nashville. Her band, the Texas Gentlemen, blend bluesy guitars with twang and honky-tonk piano. They bring a southern rock kind of quality offset by the pop-like harmonies that grace the tunes. You might think that Lane is a bit of a throwback when reading terms like Outlaw Country or southern rock, or even ’60s pop. She’s not. Instead she’s a master mashup-er, putting all these ingredients into a sound that is totally her own. It’s a sound designed for the mainstream. Rest assured that you’ll find Lane on all kinds of radio stations. She’s near the top of the Americana airplay chart a full two weeks ahead of this release.

The album begins with an amped-up nod to Lane’s hometown (“700,000 Rednecks”), and then moves into the rebellious title track with its memorable line – “It ain’t who she loves, it’s whose she’s holding.” She ends with the one five-minute track, “Forever Lasts Forever,” where she has even more conviction, describing a failed marriage with lyrics like the “lighter shade of skin” left behind from her wedding ring. Lane talks about relationships this way, “Love is the most unavoidable thing in the world. “ The person you pick could be half set-up to destroy your life with their own habits. I’ve certainly experienced that before and taken way too long to get out of that mistake.”

The more joyful side of love is here too in songs like “Companion” and “Send in the Sun.” “Muddy Waters” is all about her defiant spirit. And, she spends a considerable amount of time on boozing, partying songs with the rollicking “Jackpot,” last-call blues on “Foolish Heart” and the bold one-liners at a backroom piano on “Big Mouth.” This is Nikki Lane’s time. She takes no prisoners while melting your heart at the same time.

—Jim Hynes

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