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.
Recommend? – 100% Yes!
Album Highlights: Forever Lasts Forever, Foolish Heart, Jackpot, Lay You Down, 700,000 Rednecks
Bad Songs: None