Tonk doesn't play alt-country, but that's the camp in which the Raleigh band is likely to locate the most simpatico ears. In reality, Tonk's sound is an unadorned Bakersfield echo. In the current country climate, that puts the group firmly in the realm of outsiders and underdogs. When roots-conscious country bands can feel like they're putting on retro drag, Tonk defiantly serves up a second helping of old-school songs on Second Nature.
With sad-voiced singer Jay Brown, an unpretentious approach, and a predilection for shifting among honky-tonk shuffles and laconic laments, Tonk evokes fond memories of another Triangle institution: the defunct Two Dollar Pistols.
Tonk is deft when it comes to twisting classic country tropes. A line like "I see lots of wine and beer in my impending atmosphere," from "Getting Ready to Be Lonely," is Merle-worthy. And most any hard-country crooner will envy the refrain of "The Devil": "They say the devil is in the details/So I'm compelled to speak on the level/My sweet darling, the details say that you are the devil."
The playing is excellent, from Shep Lane's fluid pedal steel solo on opener "Let's Bend the Rules" to Greg Readling's lonesome ivory work on moody instrumental "Aloha Baby." Every member feels fully dedicated to delivering that nursing-a-heartache-and-a-Bushmills four a.m. feeling. It's never far from the surface for any real-deal country artist, and that's exactly where Tonk falls.