Honky Tonk Blender

As if to say "We've got your number," record moguls seem hell-bent on selling music as if it were a badge. Pick one station, any station, and you're guaranteed to hear the same sort of thing, over and over. A new artist with a flair for the unique inevitably faces the square peg syndrome. That's why the recent renewal of interest in "roots" music from the '20s through the '50s encourages certain artists.

One thing you could say about Texas-born Wayne "The Train" Hancock is "he ain't country." With his hair slicked back, his loose-fit denims cuffed high across his boots and a righteous disdain for the Nashville cookie cutter, he'd likely agree. On the other hand, he's not strictly blues, not quite rock and not exactly swing.

But one thing is certain--his intricate blending of all of the above has genuine, finger-popping freshness. As country outlaw vet Joe Ely says on the liner notes for Hancock's debut CD, Thunderstorms and Neon Signs, this kid is the real deal.

Austin, Texas, has long been an alternative to the pasteurized sound of Top 40 Country. It was there, in 1991, that Hancock began to develop his style, often referred to as "hyper-kinetic swingabilly," an outgrowth of his self-professed nomadic lifestyle plus such influences as Jimmie Rodgers and, especially, Hank Williams.

Hancock's highly energized vocals and straight up bluesy lyrics, as evidenced on his second recording, 1997's That's What Daddy Wants, make it clear he's no mere imitator. More likely, the Wayne Hancock who plays at the Rhythm Room on Tuesday, December 29, following an opening set by Flathead, is what Hank Williams might have turned out to be had he begun his career four decades later. You can be pretty sure Hank would have done it this way.

Wayne "The Train" Hancock performs on Tuesday, December 29, at the Rhythm Room, 1019 East Indian School; Flathead shares the bill. Doors open at 8 p.m.; showtime is 9 p.m. The cover is $9. 265-4842.

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David K. Byrne