If Nikki Lane is "outlaw country," then the law is an ass. On her third album, Highway Queen, the Nashville-based songstress breaks only the rules worth breaking. Combining the rebel gutsiness of Wanda Jackson with the mountain-drawled sass of Loretta Lynn and a dreamy humidity of summers long past, Lane is mournful but moving on, wiser for the time.
"Love is the most unavoidable thing in the world," says the singer, whose previous album All or Nothin' was produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. "The person you pick could be half set up to destroy your life with their own habits. I've certainly experienced that before and taken way too long to get out of that mistake."
So, on Forever Lasts Forever, a marriage has broken down, with the "lighter shade of skin" a reminder of the wedding ring once on her finger. And on the title track, the daughter of an asphalt-paving-machine driver sings that "the highway queen don't need no king."
There's something stoic to her bluesy delivery; this is confession, not catharsis. The sense is that Lane sings not to feel better, but to better understand life. Some highway. Some queen.
Nikki Lane plays the Horseshoe Tavern, March 5, doors at 7 p.m. $20 to $60. 370 Queen St. W., Toronto; ticketfly.com or 416-598-4226.