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Nikki Lane's approximation of old-school country is a winning appropriation

Having just taught an entire unit of classes on authenticity in music, it’s prescient that Nikki Lane‘s Walk of Shame is next up on my slate for review. The primary draws of Lane’s debut album are her voice and ability to create songs that are a dead ringer for old-school country tunes from that ambiguous past that reviewers liberally reference.

First the easy stuff: Lane’s husky, dusky drawl does reach back to the time of Loretta Lynn and other full-voiced singers. It’s mesmerizing in both its evocative quality and its rarity; you just don’t hear singers that sound like Lane that often. She celebrates the unique qualities of her voice, using her pipes to roar on tracks like “Lies,” get indignant on “Hard Livin’,” and deliver an earthy gravitas to the romantic “Comin’ Home To You.” It’s possible to enjoy this whole album simply by listening solely to the vocals.

But she’s not singing a capella, of course. The tunes are definitely country, but it’s a modern approximation of what old-school country should sound like. There’s nothing wrong with that at all; that pretty much what Jack White did in collaboration with the aforementioned Lynn.

It’s not all up-down bass lines, plucked guitar strings and pedal steel (okay, there actually is a lot of that third thing). The title track is very nearly an early ’00s retro-rock song, what with the organ, rumbling toms, syncopated distorted guitar and charging chorus. The only thing that marks it as a country song is her drawl, giving the song a fascinating flair.

“Sleep For You,” “Blue Star in the Sky” and “Look Away” are more traditional country tunes, adhering to strictures of the slow-dance two-step that was quite popular in the Texas of yesteryear. “Coming Home To You” is reminiscent of Kenny Rogers. “Come Away Joe” sounds like country as filtered through Coldplay (no, for real). The songs all sound like modernized, hi-fi versions of themselves and that’s not a bad thing; if they literally sounded like their time-period, people would be confused. But it certainly doesn’t sound like Taylor Swift, either; be it far from me to claim that.

Nikki Lane‘s Walk of Shame has good songs, a good vibe, great charm and repeat factor. It’s not for those who are (still) allergic to country, but if you’ve got country kickin’ around in your heart, you need to be on this train.