For those unfamiliar with Nikki Lane, Highway queen is her third studio album. I will admit to having checked out lane before, but not really being impressed by either of her two previous records. This was mainly due to production, and Nikki apparently wasn’t sold on it either. She has stated that for this album, she wanted a producer who wouldn’t overshadow her and who would bring out the best in her. So her boyfriend, Americana artist Jonathan Tyler, helped produce this record, and what we get is a great showcase of Nikki lane and her talent.
The album opens with the catchy, upbeat “700,000 Rednecks,” a lighthearted song about all the hardships of being a musician, and all the things “it takes to get to the top.” I am very careful about designating something outlaw country–in fact, I am not sure I have ever labeled anything I have reviewed here as such–but that’s what comes to mind with this song and throughout much of the record. A few tracks lean more toward Americana, but mostly I would call it outlaw country. “Highway queen” is a fun, upbeat track that seems to be a personal anthem for Nikki. The woman in the song lives on the road and travels alone; “the highway queen don’t need no king.” “Lay You down” is another upbeat track about a woman watching her man leave her and asking who will be there for him when he dies alone. The instrumentation, which is the strongest point of the record, is catchy, but it doesn’t really go with the lyrics, and for me, this is one of the weaker tracks.
“Jackpot” is a highlight of the album; this is a fun love song comparing true love to finally hitting the jackpot in Vegas after putting in so many quarters that came up short. If you pick one Nikki Lane song to listen to, make it this one. “Companion” is a more serious love ballad, and once again, for me it is a weaker track. Lane’s voice and style just don’t work as much on these types of songs as they do on the more rocking, upbeat, fun tracks. “Big Mouth” is one of those; it’s literally a song about telling someone to shut the hell up and stay out of her business. Think Kacey Musgraves lyrics but with Miranda Lambert attitude. “Foolish Heart” is another more serious song, this time about finally finding love but fearing losing it all again. This one is better than the previous serious tracks. “Send the Sun” is the type of love song Nikki Lane excels at; much like “Jackpot,” it is more lighthearted. It’s about long-distance love; while they miss each other at night, they promise to “send the sun your way, wake you up with a dawn full of golden rays.” Even though the miles separate them, they can’t imagine being with anyone else.
I have listened to “Muddy Waters” several times, and honestly I have no idea what it’s trying to convey. It’s a pleasant song musically and lyrically, but it seems underdeveloped somehow. Lane repeats, “I don’t believe ’cause I don’t wanna believe” but it’s pretty unclear what she’s referring to. Maybe someone more intelligent than me can figure it out. The album ends with the excellent “Forever Lasts Forever,” and for the first time on the record, Nikki really nails a serious song. This one is about divorce. The lyrics in this song really paint a great picture; “we swore for better or worse, and it was better at first, and worse at the end. They say forever lasts forever till forever becomes never again.” Lane also brings out the emotion in this song well, and it closes the album on a high note.
This is the best place to start with Nikki Lane’s music. The instrumentation is definitely the high point of the record. Lyrically, some of the serious songs don’t connect with me as much, but Lane proves she can deliver them well with “Forever Lasts Forever.” The highlights are the more fun tracks like “Jackpot,” “Highway queen,” and “700,000 Rednecks.” This is a really unique style like that of outlaw country, and Nikki’s unique voice works well with it. I”d definitely recommend getting to know this album and Nikki Lane.