Nikki Lane: All or Nothin’

Music Reviews Nikki Lane
Nikki Lane: All or Nothin’

If Lana Del Ray had pores, bodily fluids or even the rare hair out of place, she might be Nikki Lane, the East Nashville firebrand who understands sangfroid is a lot more explosive when you roughen up the edges and throw down a gauntlet. Dressed like Evel Knievel’s stunning distaff doppelganger on the cover of All or Nothin’, Lane defies convention with a record that evokes Dusty Springfield, Loretta Lynn and Jackie DeShannon over a dozen songs that read like Polaroids from a wild heart gone ragged.

Power-sauntering through the plucky straight-forward sex charge “Sleep With A Stranger,” Lane eschews ladylike demeanor and any waft of slut-shaming in laying it all out there. That bravado marks the opening “Right Time” with an unrepentant glee that descends into a chorus that turns manifesto for those who won’t be bound by expectation: “It’s always the right time to do the wrong thing.”

Credit Dan Auerbach’s savvy production—room for the steel guitar to spread out, the guitar’s bottom-string to darkly quiver, drums thumpin’ ’n’ topplin’—with investing Lane’s post-modern girl power with a force that is smart, not just pummeling.

That blunt force applies to the ballads. A thoughtfully strummed acoustic guitar and an echoing room intro invests the Auerbach duet “Love’s On Fire” with the Louvins’ hard ache. A pause tumbles into Joshua Hedley’s pungent fiddle, sawing the melody as guitars seek the sweeping rhythms that gave California country its feel. But this isn’t a peaceful, easy feeling, instead the doubts of desire across distance, weight of what must be done and the heat of libido threatening to incinerate all.

To be frank without resorting to trailer-life clichés is Lane’s great gift. Whether it’ the languid pushback on the verge of falling for a come-on Romeo (“You Can’t Talk To Me Like That”), the undulating tightrope of weighing consequences (“All or Nothin’”) or the girl-in-love-finding-her-dignity (“Good Man”), there’s the falter of her breathy little girl voice that may bruise, but it never buckles.

There is nothing cute here, or designed to make you titter. Even when she gets up in it on “Man Up,” it’s an alternate take on Aretha’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” that delivers the real with a flair, calling him out—and telling him just how it is.

When so many songs are clever rather than honest, Lane delivers no-nonsense reality. Not setting out to flex Lynn’s “Fist City,” there’s feminism as oxygen in acknowledging love happens (“Out Of My Mind”), falls apart (“Want My Heart Back”) and walks out (“Wild One”) and accepting the force of the emotions along the way.

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