Retro Active

If there were still a place where cowboys scraped their mud-caked work boots on the brass rungs of an old barstool, toweled themselves off with a faded bandanna and bellied up to the bar to sip an ice-cold Lone Star and contemplate their loneliness in this harsh world, Two Tons of Steel would be there, howling a complementary soundtrack.

The five-year-old rockabilly quartet is a blast from that unknown spot in the past where the stand-up bass and drums are sharp, and no matter what the tempo, sorrow is the only language spoken. The suffering of legends past is really how the band began. Originally known as the Dead Crickets, a sort of grim tribute to Buddy Holly, the guys initially covered Elvis and Holly songs.

As the folksier insurgent country and swing movements caught on, so did Two Tons, easing into an original, smooth but lively honky-tonk-fringed-by-scat-cat sound. Its latest album, King of a One Horse Town, is round after round of what Two Tons does best: boot-scuffing dance-hall country with precision instrumentation and a soulful nod back to a time when country music sounded more private, like a twangy griot's song rather than a collection of ten-gallon histrionics.

Unfortunately, though, the band doesn't entirely fit into the authentic two-bit cowboy bar scene. Two Tons may encourage audience members to drink a Lone Star or two, but not for the dramatic tall-Texan effect, but because Two Tons became the spokesband for the beer last year. The quartet plays jingles for Lone Star commercials, after all. Also, beware of its slide-step covers of tunes like the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated." As a novelty, the tune is worth a listen, but the newfound slowness and clarity of the lyrics are really an earsore.

Two Tons of Steel performs Friday, June 23, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8. For more information, call (713)528-5999.

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Jennifer Freytag