Nikki Lane, a Greenville, SC-bred and Nashville-based Americana artist, sings with the weary wisdom of a woman twice her age. Blessed with a voice like fire and wood smoke, and embodying a ball-kicking attitude that cuts through in every performance, Lane could probably get away with singing just about anything she wants.
She's a star, or at least, she certainly could be one if she turned her band towards the bright lights of Music Row. But on Highway Queen, three albums into her career, Lane remains true to her vision of classic country by way of alt-rock — a pigeonhole she seems happy to inhabit.
Operating at the intersection of Neko Case, Lana Del Rey and Loretta Lynn, and backed by a band that sounds like it grew up on equal parts Wilco and the White Stripes, Lane's sound is particular and compelling. Opening with the angry cowgirl stomp of "700,000 Rednecks" ("There ain't no one gonna make me stop!"), Highway Queen is driven by confident assertiveness. Even on confessional songs — the aching "Forever Lasts Forever" about a failed marriage, the wounded "Companion" — Lane is completely in control. She exudes strength, charm and charisma, even as she mourns the "lighter shade of skin" where her wedding ring used to be. It's a remarkable and sustained performance.
Only rarely, as on album highlight "Muddy Waters," does she let her armour slip a bit. Here, she admits that her confidence is hard-fought, born of a battle with honest to goodness heartache. "If the hurting was for nothing, and it was all just for show," she reminds us, "then nothing's going to change." This is her best album yet. (New West)