Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

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

November 10, 2011

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.

Quick Hits: Nikki Lane

July 24, 2011

Nikki Lane‘s Gone, Gone, Gone EP is about as good a primer on old-school country as I could ask for, and about as solid an introduction as an artist can give.

The title track is an ominous, spaghetti Western-inspired piece that showcases Lane’s husky, gritty alto voice. The guitar reverb is dark and a tad malicious, which makes the lyrics of leaving all the more cutting. “Western Bound” sees her voice in a higher register, invoking drawling, old-time country divas. It’s the most immediate of the four, with charming pedal steel. “Down to the Wire” is a straight-up Western swing tune, to make Bob Wills proud. I felt wrong not dancing to this tune about drinkin’, which features Lane’s voice in the higher register again.

“Comin’ Home to You” shows her voice with the most character on the EP, as she drops affectation and just lets it be. It’s an arresting one, and full of grit and turns and pockmarks, and while the songwriting is impressive, it’s Lane’s voice that sticks out at the end of the ten-minute EP. I can see Lane going quite far with both of those elements in her pocket. One to watch.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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