Elton John will never hear Honky Tonk Chateau, so the members need not fear lawsuits, though they could use the publicity. Copping their name from the Rocket Man's 1972 album Honky Chateau, these Springfield, Missouri, twang-rockers seem just as oblivious to their raison de nom as they are perfectly aware of every roots-pop source to come before and after "Honky Cat": Creedence Clearwater Revival, Rockpile, Elvis Costello, the Long Ryders, Lone Justice and Sticky Fingers-era Stones -- no obtuse, Taupinesque lyrics, no piano and no trace of overheated production, just a bracing, cut-the-crap and cut-it-live simplicity.
Produced by Lou Whitney, HTC's first full-length effort, Walk in the Sun, finds no truck in costume country, joke rock or pseudo-intellectual, ironic indieisms. Four-piece (counting tambourine) guitar rock may seem simple and obvious, but a thousand like-minded bands rarely get this close to the heart's core, not to mention the furious, antic pleasures of rock & roll. "I love the way things come together/When you expect they'd loosen for good," Sheri Hurst sings as the band pours out more string-bending optimism, more electric allégresse than our age deserves. And though the almost unbearably sensual Hurst is the band's vocal soul, guitarist Mike Stevens and bassist Matt Netzer also sing -- with gritty geniality -- and write -- with keen poignancy -- and together they rock sincerely, sometimes savagely. If you find a lineup of string-bending Telecaster, bass, drums and harmonies as exciting as Reginald Dwight's dirty laundry, you know the way to Washington Ave. If you still believe in gorgeously sung and unpretentiously crafted rock & roll, you know what to do: Go.