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    Nikki Lane fits in with the outlaws

    Chuck Grant

    Nikki Lane has something in her voice that can’t be learned, or faked, for that matter. Loretta Lynn has it, as do Wanda Jackson and Bobbie Gentry. It’s the undeniable twang of the South, the sound of a strong woman asserting her place in music and not giving a damn how you feel about it.

    You hear Lane’s determination, but also her joys and sorrows, on “All or Nothin’,” her hell-raising new sophomore album she made with Dan Auerbach, the Black Keys’ guitarist and singer who’s increasingly becoming known for his work as a producer.

    With a honky-tonk spirit and garage-rock energy, the album marks the rising country star’s debut on the venerable roots label New West Records. Like a bucking bronco, Lane tears out of the gate with tales about one-night stands, deadbeat lovers, and other vagaries of the heart. The opening song’s chorus — “You know what I say / Honey, it’s always the right time to do the wrong thing” — gives the album its feisty moral compass.


    Lane, who comes to Great Scott on June 25, works in the same vein of alt-country as fellow outlaws Lindi Ortega and Lydia Loveless. They’re young women carrying on the feminist spirit of early country icons — Kitty, Loretta, Dolly — with little regard for what’s coming out of Nashville and topping the country charts. Even though Lane, 30, lives in Nashville, she’s not part of the establishment and prefers it that way.

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    “There’s this idea that people don’t know what to do with me. Who?” Lane says with a spike in her voice. “My record label knows what to do with me. My manager knows the same thing. The listeners know what to do with me; they’re either into it or they’re not. The only people who don’t know what do with me are [the folks at] commercial radio, whether they should play me or not. We haven’t given them a bunch of money to play me. Because we don’t have it. Other than that, I don’t see anyone who looks confused.”

    At New West, Lane found a team that knows to stay out of her way and trust her instincts. Gary Briggs, the label’s senior vice president of A&R and artist relations, remembers the initial buzz on her.

    “Nikki has a very strong opinion of who she is as an artist,” Briggs writes in an e-mail to the Globe. “I think that intimidated a lot of folks on Music Row [Nashville’s music industry]. I was warned to be careful — that inspired me even more!”

    After Buddy Miller, the musician and producer, gave Briggs an advance copy of Lane’s new record, Briggs signed Lane to New West. He was struck by the honesty and bare emotions of her songs: “three chords and the truth,” as he describes it.


    “She is not writing vicariously through other characters. She is writing about her life, about what happened last night,” Briggs says. “Her truth can hurt and haunt you. You can climb right in to her songs and feel the pain and heartbreak as if it’s yours.”

    Lane’s story is an age-old one. Raised in a small town in South Carolina, she left the South at 18 in search of herself and ended up in Los Angeles, New York, and eventually Nashville. She was already a firecracker with a lit fuse when she debuted in 2011 with “Walk of Shame,” but for “All or Nothin’,” she entrusted Auerbach to help her find her voice while keeping the focus on her storytelling.

    Lane has little use for smoke and mirrors. She just says it outright: “I ain’t lookin’ for love / Just a little danger / Tonight would be a good night / To sleep with a stranger,” she sings on “Sleep With a Stranger.”

    That attitude, and specifically her unabashed projection of it, has aligned Lane with the outlaw country movement and its founding fathers — Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings. Lane feels at home there and loves Jennings, in particular, along with Neil Young. She also alludes to Nelson on “Right Time,” imagining (or maybe it’s bragging?) that she knocked on the door of his tour bus and asked if she could have a toke. “Hell, we’re both outlaws,” she drawls.

    “I think if you were to ask Waylon Jennings if I were an outlaw, he’d probably laugh and be like, ‘Well, actually, yeah. She does smoke plenty of weed and drinks plenty of whiskey,’” she says. “I can’t think of a new word to tell you what I do. I make country music that sounds old but feels new. And I don’t want to be alongside all those other girls that people are telling me make country music for a living.


    “Anyone who’s affiliated with me can tell you that I do not like to do what you told me to do,” she adds, laughing. “So here we are.”

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