It has been just shy of three years since Nikki Lane released her Dan Auerbach-produced breakthrough album, All Or Nothin’. The album garnered critical acclaim and presented Lane’s mix of outlaw country, rock ‘n roll, and slight hint of sixties-era pop flavor to a wide and receptive audience. Since that time, Lane has been turning more than a few heads and ears, and steadily building a dedicated fan base. Now she has returned with Highway Queen, her follow-up album out on New West Records. Highway Queen builds on the retro roots-based elements of her earlier albums and ups the ante by incorporating the driving rock swagger and earnest sweetness that she has honed on the road across a multitude of stages. The new album is a winning distillation of where Nikki Lane has been and where she is going. With the new album release still fresh, Lane has hit the tour trail once again with a run of headlining dates, including an early stop at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro NC.
The Sunday night Cradle audience seemed a bit lethargic as Nikki Lane took the stage. When Lane and her band launched into their opening number, “Highway Queen,” heads came up and feet started tapping. She immediately followed with a gritty run through “700,000 Rednecks” with its “Yippie Ki Yay” battle cry and any malaise in the room was washed away, leaving the audience eager and engaged. What followed was a wildly entertaining mix of songs pulled from across her three album catalog, including “Big Mouth,” and “Muddy Waters,” from Highway Queen, as well as earlier songs like “Man Up,” “Love’s On Fire,” “Look Away,” and “Gone Gone Gone,”. Nikki delivered lyrics of road trips, loneliness, love, empowerment, and ultimately fun with a powerful voice that was equally defiant and vulnerable. The band was tight and the camaraderie was evident as they joked amongst each other between songs. At one point, Nikki took a seat on the drum riser, and drank a beer while Jonathan Tyler and the band carried a song. The set closed with the single “Jackpot,” a grinding sonic love letter wrapped in a cross-country casino road trip. Nikki Lane was charming, engaging, and a bit of a laidback bad-ass, the kind of woman you want to hang out with at a dive bar on a Saturday night drinking beer and shooting the breeze. The performance was wildly exuberant and downright fun. If you get a chance to catch the show, don’t pass it up. The crowds and the venues only get bigger from here.
Opening the evening was a performance from Nikki Lane’s co-producer and partner Jonathan Tyler. Jonathan played a captivating solo acoustic set. His songs bathed in Americana were well received and even featured an appearance by Nikki Lane for a duet that brought roars of approval from the crowd. Prolific songwriter Brent Cobb took the middle slot and included songs from his 2016 release Shine On Rainy Day. Cobb’s set bridged the Americana leanings of Jonathan Tyler with some blue collar country and soul, creating the perfect lead-in to Nikki Lane’s headlining set.