[9 July 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Country rock is a genre of music that seems to lean favorably in one direction or the other. The Eagles, arguably the genre’s antecedent? They tend to sit comfortably on the rock side of the fence, just with country touches. Any Nu Country music that’s being made today? Tends to side with country, just with rock flourishes. But to seamlessly merge the two is a real trick and a treat and that’s what makes Nikki Lane’s sophomore album, All Or Nothin’, so damn disarming. First track “Right Time” might have the country touches of a pedal steel, but it is so sanded down with its rock-like production finishes that it effortless caresses both sides of the fence. You can probably point to the influence of producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys as a primary influence (he also guest stars as a vocalist on “Love’s On Fire”), as he infuses the sound with rock touches and vintage country instrumentation on analog equipment. But Lane has what can be described as a “dollish” voice, one that comfortable nestles into pop territory. Put all of these elements into a blender, and what you get is smooth as silk and a complete joy to listen to.
Lane has been branded as “Outlaw Country” on her latest release by Rolling Stone, and that might be doing her a disfavor. While she sings about bad exes, breakups, one night stands, and getting too boozed up, there’s a seductive and sexy swagger to her material that will probably give modern day feminists a great deal to talk about and examine. I don’t think Lane is a person who shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, but, startlingly in this era of HIV and AIDS, she offers “Tonight would be a good night / To sleep with a stranger” on one of the album’s songs. There’s a certain toughness and frankness that underlies All Or Nothin’ and you have the feeling that Lane is, indeed, laying it all on the line and making living as painfully honest and plaintive as can be. On “You Can’t Talk to Me Like That”, Lane even offers “You can’t talk to me like that / The words you say make me crazy / You can’t talk to me like that / It makes me wanna be your baby.” Clearly, Lane is what we would call an Independent Woman (in caps) and if you’re going to come calling her in the middle of the night, you’d better be bringing over some beer and be prepared to have the wildest sex imaginable. With Lane, and this is to loosely paraphrase a quote from none other than film director John Waters, it’s not a question about getting laid, it’s all in the how you’re going to get laid. As Lane even notes, “I ain’t looking for love, just a little danger.”
But the lyrical component of All or Nothin’ is just one half of the equation. This album succeeds in not only marrying good old-fashioned rock and roll with cosmopolitan country, but there’s a certain ‘60s pop sensibility in the vein of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound to be had here too. I listen to Lane’s “Good Man” and “I Don’t Care” and can almost imagine Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” being played over it. (And, yes, folks, I realize it’s really a Kristy MacColl penned song, may she rest in peace.) There’s a giddy vintage quality to this material, which is not surprising when you learn that Lane even owns a used clothing shop in Nashville called High Class Hillbilly (which is where she struck up her producing relationship with Auerbach). All in all, there’s not one duff track on this album, even though there are ebbs and flows to it, and just about every one of its 12 songs reaches for a classic and yet contemporary feel that makes it all the more astounding.
Essentially, Lane has all of the potential to be the next country-pop crossover act in the vein of a Nancy Sinatra. She’s got a commanding and beautiful voice, she likes to toy with danger, and yet is unafraid to varnish down her rough edges when she needs to. All or Nothin’ is an album that lays it all down on the line, and you get the sense that Lane (and, by extension, Auerbach) are really playing for keeps here. This is a smoldering album of invention, and successfully marries both the rock and country sides of the equation, with just a little bit of pop sheen as an added touch. Anyone who simply loves good music—regardless of genre—will find much to be rewarded by here, and Lane is definitely a towering performer that should be watched closely. I’d love to hear where she goes from here, but, as it stands, All Or Nothin’, with all of its emotions laid bare, is just one of those records that you should pass off to friends with the instructions to “hear this.” All or Nothin’ is a sweet, sweet album, even if it is drenched in piss and vinegar. Tough and yet tender, sexy and yet seductive, All of Nothin’ appeals to all of your good senses, and is a wonderful testament of an artist who is very quickly coming into her own.