We in Americana-land are always going on about authenticity and its many meanings and implications. Not that we insist that singers of country music come from the country, but we do basically expect that an artist is figuratively coming from someplace that’s true to themselves and not putting on a costume or show-biz affectations that beg the entire world to click their “like” button and make them rich. Many Americana artists share a kind of street-clothes simplicity in their stagecraft that scans as authenticity. But one also has to be ready to enjoy those rarer Americana artists who take on a big persona and dashes of rock and roll fashion and attitude. Aaron Lee Tasjan’s glam mirror suit comes to mind. And so does this week’s featured artist Nikki Lane, an edgy vixen of twang who always looks as sharp as she sounds. She’ll be part of an interesting mix that features a raspy soul-pop crooner, an Athens GA rock and roller and a wistful country songwriter.
Nikki Lane grew up in Greenville, South Carolina but didn’t stay long, dropping out of high school and high tailing it to Los Angeles and then New York to work in the fashion business. She found her way a guitar and started writing songs, and said songs and her dramatic and lustrous performance of same have been one of Music City’s most talked about draws over the last five years. Rock star/producer Dan Auerbach wanted to work with her, producing the excellent second album All or Nothin’ in 2014. Now she’s back with Highway Queen, a sterling set of ambient road-worthy songs that conjure thoughts of Patsy Cline, Neko Case and Chrissie Hynde. She mingles autobiography with myth-making in the title track. “Jackpot” is a banging, cinematic song of Las Vegas with shades of Creedence and Nancy Sinatra. “Muddy Waters” is dramatic and classic.
As for her penchant for leaving no visual unmined for design and attention, she said this to the Noisetrade blog:
“It has to reflect the character. It has to be genuine. It has to be original. That part has always been obvious to me, long before I started playing music. What can I say, I am a sucker for Elvis, ZZ Top, and Loretta Lynn. They’re not legends because they were dressed in clothes from the mall. So I began collecting and working on my identity a long time ago. Trying to decide how to reflect what’s going on inside on the outside.”
With her best project of her impressive catalog coming out in a matter of days, Nikki Lane is invulnerable of any charge of putting style over substance.
Fellow brunette country singer/songwriter Michaela Anne has a few superficial similarities with Nikki Lane. She loves fringy western wear and makes records with a warm glow. But I turn to Michaela for something a little more traditional and earthy and sweet. She found her musical voice in New York, where she spent some time formally studying jazz. But meeting super-picker and Chris Thile collaborator Michael Daves turned her toward bluegrass and country music. Her 2014 album Ease My Mind won widespread acclaim and made her one of Nashville’s country women to watch. She’s done loads of touring and collaborating since then. Her album Bright Lights And The Fame courses through classic country forms with Anne’s floating and insightful voice on top. Recently did some touring with the estimable Sam Outlaw, a perfect fit.
The manly side of this week’s show features one returning artist and one newcomer. The former is Paul McDonald, a Huntsville, AL native whose star rose on American Idol before he made Nashville his home base. He’s an artist of boundless energy who pulls in threads from all over rock and roll, soul and pop, channeling it all through a keening, cutting and expressive voice. He’s made a new album at Echo Mountain in Asheville that’s being readied for its unveiling. He played a high profile show at the High Watt the other day debuting the material for the Music City scene. We’re pleased to be the next local venue on his itinerary.
Rounding out our evening will be a set by Parker Gispert, frontman for Athens rock band The Whigs, an ensemble famous for a punchy southern sound that’s not far from the tradition of R.E.M. and Drivin’ N’ Cryin’. Gispert has been spending more time in solo acoustic mode of late. He told the Charleston City Paper that he’s long used the clean guitar and voice template as a kind of proof of concept: “I like to take songs to the band that are already worked out in acoustic form, just to make sure they were sturdy enough at the core that they didn’t need drums or bass to exist.”
So we’ve got a four-lane highway of great music planned for you. Call us if you need directions to the gig.