Nikki Lane made a name for herself as one of country’s female outlaws with her first two albums Walk of Shame (2011) and All or Nothin’ (2014). On her latest LP Highway Queen, out last Friday, she dials down the casual grit and turns up the refined rebellion. Lane offers a well-executed, diverse collection of songs – all threaded with rocking guitar – and proves her alt-country chops with sassy kiss-offs and soulful serenades alike.
Lane teamed up with boyfriend and fellow artist Jonathan Tyler to produce Highway Queen, which was largely written while touring to support her second album. The tracks boast smart, tight lyrics dusted with a layer of road-acquired dirt. She covers highs and lows, from failed relationships to joyful moments and even a gambling victory or two.
The album opens with a rowdy ode to life on the road, with the rough-and-tough lead track “700,000 Rednecks” followed by the pounding, strong-willed title track. “Highway Queen” is a rolling blacktop anthem with an empowering chorus (“You can tie her down, you can bottle lightning / But the highway queen don’t need no king“) and a spectacular second-act guitar solo. The obvious jam “Jackpot” is a not-so-subtle proclamation of love, with its celebratory chorus: “Viva Las Vegas, Atlantic City rendezvous / Weekend in Reno, late night casino / I’ll go anywhere with you.”
Lane dives deeper with the ominous “Lay You Down” and the angry, no-excuses message of “Big Mouth,” followed by the self-reprimanding chorus of “Foolish Heart.” The production remains interesting (and never overdone) throughout, with gritty guitar and layer percussion that accent Lane’s unique vocal style. “Send the Sun” is one of the lighter moments in the group, showcasing sweet sentiments (“I’m gonna send the sun your way / Wake you up with a dawn full of golden rays, ’cause I want you around / Don’t let the darkness get you down), followed by the deeper, soulful “Muddy Waters.”
The album as a whole is both exploratory and self-aware, with Lane inviting her listeners to work through her own inevitably personal emotions in a relatable, empathetic manner. Highway Queen mixes haunting lyrics about broken vows and vanished wedding rings (“Forever Lasts Forever”) with clap-worthy beats and rousing riffs (“Jackpot”), and yet Lane’s edgy artistic perspective remains evident throughout the album, which is more than worthy of a road trip jam session or two.
The Shotgun Seat Must-Listens:
- Highway Queen
- Send the Sun
- Muddy Waters
Catch Lane on the “Highway Queen” Tour this spring.