There may be no Honky in the title but Audrey Auld’s new album TONK has plenty in the content. Right from the outset, this latest release from the Nashville residing Aussie sets out to be a blueprint of how traditional country music can be made relevant in the 21st Century and Audrey succeeds in this mission. While it is unlikely to turn many heads in the Music Row establishment, those artists under their wing who have explored country roots in recent recordings could do no worse than look to TONK for inspiration and guidance of how to interpret the past.
Long since recording her first album back in Australia nearly a decade and a half ago, Audrey has made the US her home and while absorbing all the appropriate country sounds, still injects a striking antipodean accent into her songs to enhance their roots authenticity. Checking in at a rapid 41 minutes, the fourteen tracks of TONK spans the repertoire of traditional country served with a voice ranging from tear jerking sweetness to an earthy bitterness. The style is uncompromising and organic with a touch of humour added both lyrically and in the outtake nature to some of the songs.
Audrey has won over many plaudits in the wider country music community and is valued as highly as a song writer as she is a recording artist. In fact her composition ‘Next Big Nothing’ was one of the stand out songs on Sunny Sweeney’s fabulous debut album HEARTBREAKER’S HALL OF FAME. All but two tracks off TONK are self penned with the exceptions being Willie P. Bennett’s ‘Crying the Blues’, a song which does what it says on the tin, and the harmony driven ‘Sweet Alcohol’.
Logic would suggest commencing the song analysis with the gospel-esque opener ‘Bound for Glory’ but it is impossible to remove from your mind the coarse, brutal, ruthless yet hilarious ‘Rack Off ' which hurls a stream of abuse while driven along by a rockabilly backbeat straight out of the 50’s. The deadpan Aussie twang accompanying this song achieves more than any southern backwoods drawl could do. Humour is in abundance in the final track ‘Bury Me at Wal-Mart’ where some old time pedal steel gives an unlikely romantic tale a western swing feel.
However these type of songs are not necessarily representative to the overall feel of the record which rotates from a sweet waltz reflecting upon Nashville’s ills ‘Lonely Town’ to the sultry ‘Kiss Me’. As you would expect the usual array of instruments is present including the fiddle influenced ‘Broken Hearted Woman’ and some sublime pedal steel adding decorum to ‘Yes Best Left’.
With country music steeped in a history of feisty women, it is unsurprising for Audrey to approach this angle in both the lecture-like ‘Drinking Problem’ where the subject is told some home truths of what the real problem is and ‘Your Wife’ a construed possible homage to the female pioneers of the 60’s. The twin tracks in the middle of the album titled ‘Nashville #1’ and ‘Nashville #2’ offer different slants on Music City, the first a little ode with a slight rockin’ groove and the second a waltz-like chasing the dream piece. The other track on the album not yet mentioned is ‘Siren City’, one of the numbers commencing with an improvised chuckle to provide that live recording feel.
Plans are hopefully in motion for Audrey to visit the UK sometime next year and the material from TONK will connect both with some of the more traditional customers and Americana connoisseurs searching for a resurrection of the soul of country music. However this exceptional album shouldn’t just be directed at specific groups as its paradigm of country values will spread out to anybody with a fleeting interest in the genre.