With a voice somewhere between a more sultry Loretta Lynn and an louder Hope Sandoval, Carolina-via-Nashville girl Nikki Lane’s music keeps getting better with each album she releases, and with Highway Queen (New West Records), Lane truly lays claim to not just the title of Highway Queen, but First Lady of Outlaw Country as well.
Opening for Social Distortion on their 2015 Self Titled Album Tour, which celebrated the album’s 25th year anniversary, definitely helped her solidify her title and popularity with a new and slightly older crowd who might not have heard of her before. Mike Ness has made it no secret over the years that he is more than just a punk aficionado. He’s a fan of a wide variety of rock music, and having Lane open for him fit perfectly in his, and his band’s, wheelhouse. More importantly though, Social D fans found that Lane fit perfectly into their musical listening wheelhouses as well. Her sardonic stage persona and rocking Americana-style songs define contemporary “outlaw country” with their punk attitude that’s twinged with a bit of country twang and western sounding expansiveness. Nikki Lane didn’t need Social D to strike a crossover wildfire of attention and affinity though. She had that accomplishment well in hand.
Lane would have found herself a great career singing straightforward country music, without the need for rock n’ roll stylings, based solely upon her incredibly voice and its unique sound. Like most postmodern Americana, it sounds immediately recognizable, but unique and fresh. The Loretta Lynn and Hope Sandoval comparisons aren’t made lightly. Lane has the spirit of an outlaw in her though. Her music ranges in subject manner from one-night-stands to life long love relationships and everything in between. Lane’s music has always been personal and somewhat autobiographical, probably something that Ness found admirable in her music as well, but on Highway Queen it feels even more personal than before. Title track “Highway Queen” seems to describe, through her singer-songwriter-outlaw’s artistic lens, her life on the road touring these past few years, mixed with her ever present feminist energy.
The whole affair is a joyous one though. There’s no regret or sorrow here. Just a lust for life…an independent and fulfilling one. “Jackpot,” as stated by Lane herself, is about her relationship with Nashville artist Jonathan Tyler. Tyler also stars in the video with Lane. It’s a rollicking-rocker filled with joy and plenty of freshin love energy. Lane sings with a wise-beyond-her-age insight and confidence about being alone AND in love on the same record in the same convincing manner on both occasions. The whole album is filled with interlocking contradictions such as these, and Lane ties them all together with the songwriting and singing maturity that is, again, beyond her young 33 years of age.
Having seen her in concert twice now, once opening for Social D, and the other at Greenville, SC’s Fall For Greenville festival back on October 11 2015, which was coincidentally my birthday, and the occasion of her family celebrating her birthday on stage with her (her birthday is October 17), I can say with confidence that her stage show is just as compelling as a headphone listen to her albums are. Lane is as witty, funny as well as entertaining between songs and her lyrics would often suggest. She has some stock commentaries that she recycles with new variations on them each show. They don’t get old though. They get funnier. Her live band is incredibly tight and talented as well. That wonderful voice? Sounds just as good, actually better, live. There’s no studio magic at work as far as Lane’s vocals are concerned. What you hear is what you get. What else would you expect from the reigning highway queen of outlaw country?
Nikki Lane is on tour right now, with several dates scheduled both in the Southeast and US over the next few months. Get the full tour details here.