Lane sings about unbearable weariness, bitter loneliness and the often-terrible cost of living life on your own terms. Then, in the same breath, she revels in the unmatchable joy of being free.
“I can do whatever I wanna / All by my lonesome / If there’s a problem / Well, you can’t say shit”, sings Nikki Lane, sneering in her upper register, in the chorus of the title track of her new album, Denim & Diamonds.
It’s a fair mission statement for the project as a whole, and Lane’s general career trajectory over the past few years. She took a break between album cycles: five years, to be exact, since releasing Highway Queen in 2017. During that time, she continued to play her own headlining shows, but otherwise departed from the traditional cycle of touring and recording.
Instead, she helmed her own vintage clothing business, collaborated with Lana Del Ray and put out an Iris Dement cover that was featured in an episode of NPR’s This American Life about the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.
True fans always knew that the highway queen would ride again. Listeners particularly clued in to Lane’s longstanding predilection for unorthodox collaborative choices might have predicted her selection of Josh Homme - frontman to Queens of the Stone Age - as producer, bringing in a chugging rock edge that lends a brand-new layer of gristle and grit to the singer’s chameleonic, catch-all Americana style.
The punk-tinged, garage-y vibes conjured up on songs like ‘Born Tough’ and ‘Black Widow’ serve the songs’ messages well. The Lane that appears on these songs is hardened and a little intimidating: she’s been knocked down and roughed up, but she keeps coming up stronger, determined to make it on her own terms.
Lane’s sweat equity towards becoming the kind of artist she wants to be is readily apparent in these songs. “Sometimes you gotta try a little harder / Push a little farther just to make it on your own,” she sings in the jangly ‘Try Harder’, a song that finds her exposing a side of her voice and personality that’s a little more plaintive and a little less tough. Even a road dog like Lane gets weary of the grind.
Though Lane’s rock leanings on Denim & Diamonds serve her well, the album’s tenderest moments are the ones that feel closest to her foundation. ‘Faded’ is a bleary, weary, lovelorn ballad that would feel at home in the tired after-hours of a Nashville dive like Springwater or Santa’s Pub.
‘Good Enough’ tells the story of a road warrior on the verge of giving up: “Sometimes I get so tired I don’t know if I’ll get home again,” Lane confesses huskily in the first verse.
Still, you don’t make it four albums into the music business if quitting is an option, and Lane has a knack for finding some shimmering sweetness. “It’s a beautiful morning to tell someone you love them / To tell someone you’re thinking of them all throughout the day,” she sings in the soaring chorus.
In this song, and in Denim & Diamonds as a whole, Lane bounces seamlessly between the lows and highs of life. She sings about unbearable weariness, bitter loneliness and the often-terrible cost of living life on your own terms. Then, in the same breath, she revels in the unmatchable joy of being free.
Denim & Diamonds is out now via New West Records. Purchase the record directly from New West or via one of Holler's selected partners below: