I don’t really have ton of material to introduce Nikki Lane to you all. In all honesty, I’m not familiar with her earlier work prior to her newest album, Highway Queen. She released two albums before – 2011’s Walk Of Shame and 2014’s All Or Nothin’ (both produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys). For her newest album, she decided to team up with her boyfriend (and fellow musician) Jonathan Tyler to producer her latest album. Now that I’ve copied what other blogs wrote for their introduction to this review, let’s get started.
This record is kind of hard to talk about (I’ve said that a lot lately haven’t I?). There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, and yet it’s still not grabbing me the way I’d like it to. It’s definitely good, and with time it could grow on me, but I’m really at a loss for what to say.
To start with, I’m not a big fan of her voice. Yes, you can definitely hear the Wanda Jackson influence, and if you want another comparison I would also say she’s like a huskier Kelsey Waldon. The actual sound isn’t what bothers me so much as it is her tone on some of these songs. I don’t think she’s great at handling the sweeter love songs like “Companion” or “Send The Sun”, and on the personal title track she sounds a little bored in all honesty.
Also, the vocal production feels a little muffled. I’m no expert at production techniques, so I won’t pretend to be, but really, you do get a sense that her voice is often times getting drowned out by the production like on “Companion”, “Highway Queen”, and “Jackpot” where all of these songs are opting for more instrumentation or just more anthemic tones. This doesn’t necessarily make any of these bad songs mind you. Heck, the latter two are what I’d consider highlights on the record. Still, you get a sense that there could have been more done in that department.
So with that said, what did I like? Well to start, I do like the overall “vibe” of this album. Having Jonathan Tyler at the helm was a good choice for this album, since much like his last album, 2015’s Holy Smokes, you really get a sort of smokey, hazy, and grittier feel to this material overall. In a lot of ways it also reminds me of Kelsey Waldon’s I’ve Got A Way from last year, as the steel guitar you hear on this record is often more ghostly in nature, accentuating either the darkness or the sadness that can permeate some of these tracks. The beginning of the title track is a good example, as is the (once again) fun as all heck “Jackpot”. There’s also other cool moments such as the scuzzy blues-rock solos of “700,000 Rednecks” as well as the stomping rhythm of “Big Mouth”.
I would say the mood is best however on the closer, “Forever Lasts Forever”, probably my personal favorite track on the record for feeling different from the other tracks sonically speaking. That also speaks to Nikki Lane as a writer, as lyrically, most people have been quick to regard this as the weakest element of the album, but I’d argue they’re fine. This song in particular features some excellent writing and manages to turn a story of love into heartbreak, in turn also giving us a strong vocal showcase from Lane as well.
From a lyrical standpoint, there are also moments that speak to personal tales for Lane such as “700,000 Rednecks” detailing life in the music business, or the title track which many people have dubbed Lane’s empowerment anthem (a stamp I can agree with). I was also a fan of “Lay You Down”, a song which sonically actually feels like it could have been on Marty Stuart’s latest album. At first I thought this was a murder ballad, but upon re-listens it’s about a guy who leaves the narrator in search of….something. That part isn’t important. What is important is that he’s all alone, and while he chooses to bear his lone wolf status with a sense of pride, it also means he’ll die alone. The introvert in me likes themes such as that.
So overall, I would definitely say this is a strong album from Nikki Lane, to echo what other people have said before when discussing this. Again, I don’t love it, and that mainly comes down to some personal nitpicks with the vocal production, but if you want an album that’s short, sweet, to the point and is a lot of fun to boot, this album is a nice listen.