Album Review – Nikki Lane’s ‘Highway Queen’

nikki-lane-highway-queen

There were several albums I was looking forward to hearing in 2017. All of the usual big names that almost everyone else echoes like Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton get thrown around and are expected. But perhaps one of my most under-the-radar choices was Nikki Lane’s new album Highway Queen. She’s an artist I haven’t had a chance to discuss as much, but should very much be heard by all country music fans. Her voice is a callback to the “golden days” of country music and many have likened it to icon Wanda Jackson. Her first two albums she tended to get overshadowed by their big name producers, Dave Cobb and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys respectively. It’s something she’s discussed in many interviews and for her third album she wanted to make sure she was the focus and sounded like her. Hence why her boyfriend and fellow artist Jonathan Tyler helped produce Highway Queen. Well this was a pretty smart choice because the results are quite fantastic.

From the very first notes of “700,000 Rednecks” you get a taste of the old school country with a strong slice of swagger that permeates throughout this album. It just fits Lane so well and again it was such a great choice for Tyler as producer. The album’s title track comes off as Lane’s personal creed. The song tells of a strong, independent woman who confidently hits the open road alone and relishes the challenges ahead. “Lay You Down” is about dealing with living and dying alone. A woman sees her man walk out on her for the last time, as he goes onto die with nobody there to lay him down. The drum play helps make this song standout, really helping drive the emotion of the song across. There are a lot of fun tracks on this album, but the most fun probably has to be “Jackpot.” It’s a love song that likens finding love to hitting the jackpot in Vegas. Who said love songs can’t be fun? So many love songs today are overly serious or not serious enough, while this finds the perfect sweet spot. Love is also the theme of “Companion.” The woman recalls her past rocky relationships and is grateful to have finally found the right one and be his companion. The throwback rockabilly sound gives the song a waltzing feel, the perfect cool-off after the high energy of “Jackpot.”

“Big Mouth” is one of the most catchy songs I’ve heard about telling someone to shut the hell up. The in-your-face lyrics and the grooving rhythm go together perfectly. The aching “Foolish Heart” is about the fear of losing everything. It’s about not being able to bear the thought of losing love now that you’ve found it and can’t fathom being alone. Lane does a great job of really bringing the emotion out of the lyrics and makes for one of the best songs on the album. “Send the Sun” is a song I imagine Lane and Tyler’s musician lifestyles inspired, as it’s about a couple struggling to be apart while on the road. Each want to send love the others way, hoping it gets them through until they see each other again. Highway Queen ends with “Forever Lasts Forever,” a song about the end of a relationship. It’s a recollection of the wedding vows the couple took and Lane creatively twists them into the perfect story of heartbreak. The line that really just hits it on the nose: “Because we said until death do us part and it was true/Because my heart feels like it’s dying.” There are many great songs on this album, but this song is the album’s crown gem and one of the best songs I’ve heard this year.

Nikki Lane delivers music excellence in Highway Queen. It feels like a truly breakout moment for Lane, as her personality and style shines though so well on this record. The instrumentation and production are spot-on and frames each song like they should, which shows how well Lane and Tyler worked in making this album. This album delivers the rollicking and fun foot-stompers just as well as it delivers emotional gut-punchers. Mark my words: this will go down as one of the best country albums of the year. Lane hits the jackpot and wins big with Highway Queen.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend? – 100% Yes!

Album Highlights: Forever Lasts Forever, Foolish Heart, Jackpot, Lay You Down, 700,000 Rednecks

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None


Looking Back at The Top 20 Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

Lately I decided to go back and take a look at all of the album grades I handed out last year. When it comes to grading albums, it can be very polarizing to say the very least and I know there are times when you flat out disagree with me. Other times we’re in complete agreement. One of the toughest aspects of grading is deciding what album is worthy of a 10/10. What constitutes a 10/10 can vary amongst people and I’ve found context is one of the biggest determining factors. Some view a 10/10 in a historical context, some view it in a yearly context, some in a genre context, etc. When it comes to a 10/10 to me, at its core it all comes to a feel for me. I can usually sense a 10/10 from my first listen and I know it’s the mark of a truly great album.

Another important thing I keep in mind when grading is not putting too much weight on the artist’s past material. It should be considered for in terms of comparison for their average sound and whether they deviate from it or not. But in my mind you shouldn’t knock a current album’s grade just because it isn’t as good as the last one in your mind. For example, it baffled me how so many people knocked their grade for Jason Isbell’s 2015 album Something More Than Free because it wasn’t as good in their mind as his previous album Southeastern, so therefore it can’t be a 10/10 if they gave Southeastern a 10/10 in their mind. I also consider it unfair to hold an album in a historical light right upon its release. In my opinion it takes years to determine how well it holds up historically, all-time. Finally I believe there’s no such thing as a perfect album. Every album has its little flaws and has areas where it could be a little better. So I think giving a 10/10 only in the case of it being “perfect” is a little absurd. But as they say it’s all subjective and I just wanted to clarify how I look at albums.

Without further ado I wanted to give you my thoughts on what I would grade albums I gave a 10/10 last year at this current time after having more time to digest and listen to them. Some have held up and some have not. Like I said at the beginning of the year when I announced we were approaching 10/10 grades differently this year, I gave way too many last year. So now I give you what I believe the true 10/10 grades, as well as what I believe didn’t hold up as 10/10. There probably won’t be another post like this next year because I’m being more focused on the grading this year and don’t have any regrets like last year. So here you go:

10/10

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch 

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer 

Don Henley – Cass County

Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Thoughts: Of course our album of the year choice is still a 10/10. I also still stand by my point that Something More Than Free is a better album than Southeastern, even though I’m aware this is unpopular. The key word here is album. If you asked me to pick the best three songs amongst the two albums, I’m probably picking them from Southeastern. But looking at both as whole albums, Something More Than Free is better because it flows better as a whole, thematically and sonically. I know people will disagree.

Of the others that hold up to a 10/10, I know there’s only three of them that some people would disagree. While Traveller being at 14 songs is not ideal and detracted from it in people’s minds, it ultimately doesn’t hurt the album’s overall quality in my opinion. Houndmouth may never put out a better album than Little Neon Limelight again, especially in light of the news of Katie Toupin departing from the band earlier this year. Her vocals were a big reason why I loved that album. As for Whitney Rose’s Heartbreaker of the Year, it just does such a great job of standing out and taking risks while remaining rooted in country. It’s why she won our Female Artist of the Year award.

9/9

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid 

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

The Malpass Brothers – Self-Titled

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning 

Thoughts: So now we get to the albums where they didn’t hold up. Don’t Be Afraid ultimately doesn’t hold up for me because it just doesn’t follow the emotional punch of its title song all the way through the album. Angeleno was a big favorite in a lot of circles, but I just don’t get the same feeling as I did when I first listened to it. It just doesn’t sound as good hearing it back now, but it’s still a great album. The Malpass Brothers are an act I really enjoy, but giving 10/10 to an album mostly full of cover songs wasn’t the right choice. Then we have one of the big surprises for me of 2015 and that’s The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning. A lot of people missed this one because it was a January release. It’s still a really really good album, but it just doesn’t make the cut in my mind for a 10/10, although it’s close.

8/8

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Self-Titled

Thoughts: This is where I know I’m ruffling feathers and people won’t like my downgrading. But I remind you this is just my opinion and not the end all be all. We’ll start with the elephant in the room: Maddie & Tae’s Start Here. I’m a big fan of this duo and that’s one of the things that ultimately clouded my final grade. There’s arguably no other act in mainstream country I want to see succeed more than these two. So I gave Start Here a grade it shouldn’t have received. There’s a lot of really good moments on the album, but it doesn’t follow that through on all of it’s songs. “Your Side of Town” is one song that brings it down, as well as “Right Here, Right Now” and “No Place Like You” for just not being memorable songs. I still say their best album will come when they finally get fed up of the games you have to play on a major label and leave to make their own records on Thirty Tigers.

My fandom also clouded my judgement on Second Hand Heart and Mono. Dwight Yoakam is a living legend and The Mavericks are perhaps one of the most underrated acts in music. Both delivered really good albums with some fun songs, but they’re just not 10/10 albums. Both needed more serious songs on the album to merit it. I enjoy Jonathan Tyler’s Holy Smokes and even bought it on vinyl, but I don’t know what I was thinking giving it 10/10. Maybe it was the summer heat? Ditto for Banditos’ self-titled album. Just a case of me going overboard.

Oh and one last thing. I wanted to give you what I considered a ranking of the top 20 albums of 2015. I think this will also serve useful to those who have just found the site and are looking for great music. These are albums you can’t go wrong with and you can’t go wrong with any of the ones I mentioned above too. My top 20 ranking is all albums reviewed, not just what I reviewed. If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  2. Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch
  3. Chris Stapleton – Traveller 
  4. Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled (This one has gotten even better for me upon more listens)
  5. Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer
  6. Don Henley – Cass County (Still can’t believe the drummer for the Eagles made a top ten country album of the year)
  7. John Moreland – High on Tulsa Heat (This one has really grown on me)
  8. Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses
  9. Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 
  10. Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year
  11. Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood (Still not giving this a 10/10, Church fans. So don’t ask)
  12. The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning
  13. Sam Outlaw – Angeleno (This placing will get more complaints than you realize)
  14. Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter (I hate myself for giving out 9.5/10 grades at one point)
  15. Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions (Most under-the-radar debut of 2015)
  16. Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds
  17. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Deserves a lot more credit than it received)
  18. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone (Also deserved more credit)
  19. Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid
  20. Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams (I always forget about this one, which is dumb)

Just missed the cut: James McMurtry’s Complicated Game, Tony Furtado’s The Bell, Justin Townes Earle’s Absent Fathers and Jami Lin Wilson’s Holidays and Wedding Rings.

Country Perspective’s 40 Most Essential Country & Americana Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

We’ve reached the end of 2015 and as you’ve seen over this last month there have numerous best of and worst of lists and everything in between. The “listpocalypse” as many dub it is finally ending and we can start focusing on new music really soon. But before we look forward to the new music of 2016, we want to look back one last time on the music of country and Americana in 2015. These are the albums we consider the absolute must listen albums of 2015 if you’re a fan of country and Americana. We should point out that this year’s essential albums list is different in that last year’s list was all albums that we ranked 8/10 or better. This year’s essential list only contains albums (and a few EPs) ranked 9/10 or better.

Originally we wanted to just have it narrowed down to 25 albums, but then it grew to 30 and then 35 before eventually 40. We wanted to make sure we go all of the great music on the list! Keep in mind if we didn’t put an album on this list it’s not because we’re haters or we’re attacking your favorite artist. Do not turn the comments section into “Well you didn’t put (insert name) on the list and you didn’t put this on the list, so I hate it.” Instead put together your own list in the comments if you want, as this is more constructive and creates more interesting conversation.

Now that I’ve gotten all of the ground rules out of the way, let’s get to the music. These are what we consider the 36 most essential country and Americana albums of 2015.

The Best of the Best

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

The Awesome Ones

Don Henley – Cass County 

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 

Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer, Vol. 1

Turnpike Troubadours – Turnpike Troubadours

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

Pretty Damn Great

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions

Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material

Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds

Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter

The Malpass Brothers – The Malpass Brothers

Rick Elliot – West of the Rockies EP

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning

“I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair”

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart 

George Strait – Cold Beer Conversation

Alan Jackson – Angels & Alcohol

James McMurtry – Complicated Game

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django & Jimmie

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind

A Little Bit of Everything

John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Banditos

Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone

Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville 

Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams

Jon Pardi – The B-Sides, 2011-2014 EP

Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays & Wedding Rings

Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers 

Tony Furtado – The Bell

Allison Moorer – Down To Believing 

Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet

The Black Lillies – Hard To Please 

The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown [October 19]

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

This is The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown. Every week I’ll post the top 40 from the Americana Airplay chart, which is obtained from AmericanaRadio.org. From the site: “The Americana Airplay chart represents the reported play of terrestrial radio stations, nationally syndicated radio shows, satellite radio and internet stations who have agreed to submit weekly spin counts. For more information please visit www.americanamusic.org.”

The goal of this feature is to track and monitor the current most popular music in the Americana realm, as I believe it’s starting to take on a bigger importance in the world of music, especially concerning the current state of country music. In addition it will bring some new names to the site that haven’t been covered here before and could lead to more Americana coverage. It’s also a place to discuss anything going on in the Americana genre at this moment. Be sure to weigh in on the chart in the comments below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (Grade: 10/10)
  2. Patty Griffin – Servant of Love
  3. Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin – Lost Time
  4. Joe Ely – Panhandle Rambler
  5. Josh Ritter – Sermon On The Rocks [Up 2]
  6. The Bottle Rockets – South Broadway Athletic Club (Grade: 8.5/10) [Down 1]
  7. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Grade: 9/10) [Down 1]
  8. Los Lobos – Gates Of Gold
  9. Don Henley – Cass County (Grade: 10/10) [Up 3]
  10. The Black Lillies – Hard To Please [Up 4]
  11. Turnpike Troubadours – Turnpike Troubadours (Grade: 10/10) [Down 2]
  12. The Wood Brothers – Paradise [Down 2]
  13. Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats – Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats 
  14. Ashley Monroe – The Blade (Grade: 7/10) [Down 3]
  15. The Statesboro Revue – Jukehouse Revival (Grade: 8/10) 
  16. Amy Helm – Didn’t It Rain [Up 2]
  17. Shawn Colvin – Uncovered
  18. Webb Wilder – Mississippi Moderne [Up 2]
  19. Watkins Family Hour – Watkins Family Hour [Down 3]
  20. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone (Grade: 9/10) [New]
  21. The Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete [Up 4]
  22. Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble [Up 4]
  23. Shemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love [Up 1]
  24. Lucero – All A Man Should Do [Up 3]
  25. Warren Haynes (feat. Railroad Earth) – Ashes & Dust [Down 2]
  26. Langhorne Slim – The Spirit Moves [Down 7]
  27. Rayland Baxter – Imaginary Man [Up 1]
  28. Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville (Grade: 9/10) [Down 6]
  29. Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet (Grade: 9/10) [Down 8]
  30. Kevin Gordon – Long Gone Time [Up 2]
  31. Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year (Grade: 10/10)
  32. Jason James – Jason James [Up 3]
  33. Steep Canyon Rangers – Radio 
  34. Folk Family Festival – Water Walker [Up 4]
  35. Dale Watson – Call Me Insane (Grade: 8.5/10) [Down 5]
  36. Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes (Grade: 10/10) [Down 7]
  37. Daniel Romano – If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ [Down 1]
  38. The Damn Quails – Out of The Birdcage (Grade: 8.5/10) [Down 4]
  39. Chris Stapleton – Traveller (Grade: 10/10) [Down 2]
  40. Bart Crow – The Parade [New]

The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown [October 12]

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

This is The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown. Every week I’ll post the top 40 from the Americana Airplay chart, which is obtained from AmericanaRadio.org. From the site: “The Americana Airplay chart represents the reported play of terrestrial radio stations, nationally syndicated radio shows, satellite radio and internet stations who have agreed to submit weekly spin counts. For more information please visit www.americanamusic.org.”

The goal of this feature is to track and monitor the current most popular music in the Americana realm, as I believe it’s starting to take on a bigger importance in the world of music, especially concerning the current state of country music. In addition it will bring some new names to the site that haven’t been covered here before and could lead to more Americana coverage. It’s also a place to discuss anything going on in the Americana genre at this moment. Be sure to weigh in on the chart in the comments below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (Grade: 10/10)
  2. Patty Griffin – Servant of Love
  3. Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin – Lost Time
  4. Joe Ely – Panhandle Rambler [Up 1]
  5. The Bottle Rockets – South Broadway Athletic Club (Grade: 8.5/10) [Up 5]
  6. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Grade: 9/10) [Down 2]
  7. Josh Ritter – Sermon On The Rocks [Up 17]
  8. Los Lobos – Gates Of Gold [Down 1]
  9. Turnpike Troubadours – Turnpike Troubadours (Grade: 10/10) [Down 3]
  10. The Wood Brothers – Paradise [Up 3]
  11. Ashley Monroe – The Blade (Grade: 7/10) [Down 3]
  12. Don Henley – Cass County (Grade: 10/10) [Up 2]
  13. Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats – Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats [Up 5] 
  14. The Black Lillies – Hard To Please [Up 6]
  15. The Statesboro Revue – Jukehouse Revival (Grade: 8/10) [Down 3]
  16. Watkins Family Hour – Watkins Family Hour [Down 7]
  17. Shawn Colvin – Uncovered
  18. Amy Helm – Didn’t It Rain [Down 7]
  19. Langhorne Slim – The Spirit Moves 
  20. Webb Wilder – Mississippi Moderne [Up 20]
  21. Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet (Grade: 9/10) [Down 6]
  22. Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville (Grade: 9/10) [New]
  23. Warren Haynes (feat. Railroad Earth) – Ashes & Dust [Down 7]
  24. Shemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love [Up 1]
  25. The Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete [Up 13]
  26. Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble [Up 10]
  27. Lucero – All A Man Should Do [Up 8]
  28. Rayland Baxter – Imaginary Man [Down 5]
  29. Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes (Grade: 10/10) [Down 8]
  30. Dale Watson – Call Me Insane (Grade: 8.5/10) [Down 8]
  31. Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year (Grade: 10/10) [Down 4]
  32. Kevin Gordon – Long Gone Time [Down 6]
  33. Steep Canyon Rangers – Radio [Down 4]
  34. The Damn Quails – Out of The Birdcage (Grade: 8.5/10) [Down 3]
  35. Jason James – Jason James [Down 1]
  36. Daniel Romano – If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ [Down 6]
  37. Chris Stapleton – Traveller (Grade: 10/10) [Down 9]
  38. Folk Family Festival – Water Walker [New]
  39. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color [Down 6]
  40. Jackie Greene – Back To Birth [Down 3]