My first exposure to Nikki Lane came just a few weeks ago when she performed a song with The Cabin Down Below Band for Petty Fest at Metro. She sang a sweet, low-key version of Tom Petty’s “Saving Grace.” A memorable exhibition, for sure, but it did not prepare me at all for the raw power of her own material. I took a listen to her last album Walk Of Shame, and even that doesn’t really match up with the strength of All Or Nothin’.
The album does feel a little schizophrenic at times. On the one hand it brings a new voice into the “outlaw country” canon. On the other, it features an odd blend of psychedelic pop/rock in there with the pedal steel and banjo. Like Connie Francis heard Strawberry Alarm Clock and decided to go in a different direction.
Dan Auerbach produced the record, and he does Lane justice to leave things fairly simple. The title track features a Neil Young-inspired opening organ riff and Lane’s breathy vocals backed up by minimal guitar until a tight little solo pops up in the middle. It’s like a little microcosm of the whole album, with some of the finest writing Lane displays coming in the second verse: “People say, honey, people do, but there’s a difference between the two. We know what is right and we know what is wrong, but it all runs together before too long.”
There’s a lot of hard-drinkin’, girl-on-the-make lyrics in the songs, but I think it works best on a tune like “Man Up.” Instead of trying to “Sleep With A Stranger” Lane wants her man to do right by her and stop taking for granted that she’ll always be there. It’s sung with the kind of twang and attitude that makes you believe she’s not messing around here.
Nikki Lane is a talented songwriter and performer who continues the blurring of the lines between country music genre further toward rock and roll. Auerbach has produced some really fine work at his studio in Nashville, and I think this might be the best he’s made yet.