The Lineup


Raleigh, N.C.


It shouldn’t take many listens to realize how Tonk came up with its name. “We play country music the way God intended it to be played,” bassist Ben Barwick told New Raleigh back in 2009, “that is, country music pre-somewhere-around-1978. Heavy on the Ray Price shuffle-walking-bass-line sort of thing, but bleeding into a Waylon/Paycheck harder honky-tonk style. You know, anything before the Eagles and Pure Prairie League bent country music over a barrel and had their way with it.”

The music Tonk has peddled for four years backs Barwick’s assertion. The group moves confidently, relying on stout bass, rattling piano and tales of heartbreak that unravel with a wry twang. Comprising a clutch of scene veterans who have played everything from joke-riddled rock ’n’ roll (Bandway) to striding country-rock (Mommie), Tonk is more staunchly old-school than that experience would suggest. But this exacting approach doesn’t make Tonk any less fun, nor has it kept the band from sharing stages with a variety of other roots-minded locals. ’90s alt-country stalwarts The Backsliders and powerfully fetching bluegrass outfit Chatham County Line are two examples.

Right now, Tonk is hard at work on its debut full-length, but a smattering of rough recordings and live cuts testify to their confident distillation of country tradition. Lin Peterson’s guitar licks leave spaces for Shepherd Lane’s wiry pedal steel, while Jay Brown wraps his airy warble around lines steeped equally in humor and regret: “I pickle my brain, but I can still speak your name,” he offers on “Guess I’m Not Drinking Enough.”

Tonk is nothing more and nothing less than Raleigh’s most reliable honky-tonk outfit. It’s all in the name. —Jordan Lawrence