Nikki Lane Credit: Eden Tyler

For her recently released third album, Highway Queen (New West), Nashville singer Nikki Lane reveals a new level of self-awareness, on the title track counting the miles she’s logged on the road while also reflecting on the mixture of hard work and posturing required to find success. Later, on “700,000 Rednecks,” she seems to apply both themes to the motivation afforded by her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, and the red-meat hokum the country industry feeds upon. She coproduced the new record with Jonathan Tyler, who helped it feel less schizophrenic than the Dan Auerbach-produced All or Nothin’ (2014). Lane bridges the divide between hard-rocking twang and post-Bobbie Gentry sass, using her soulful wail as a poppy equalizer. And her writing has never been sharper; the album-closing breakup song “Forever Lasts Forever” lays her sentiments bare as she laments, “Now I know, forever lasts forever / ’Til forever becomes never again.”

On his debut album, Shine on Rainy Day (Low Country Sound/Elektra), Georgian Brent Cobb evokes a very mellow 70s vibe, sweetly singing folk-rock originals that split the difference between soft rock and country. At his most toothless, as on the opener “Solving Problems,” he reminds me of a very sentimental Jim Croce, but as the album unfolds the substance and depth increase. Part of the credit belongs to his cousin Dave Cobb—the unflashy, de rigueur Nashville producer behind successes like Jamie Johnson, Sturgill Simpson, and Jason Isbell—but Brent’s easygoing voice is eminently inviting, and the nifty, sun-dappled, flanged-out guitarwork across ballads and midtempo ramblers is just as hard to resist.   v