You might wonder what could possibly be punky or new wave about a band that finds its inspiration in artists like Johnny Cash, George Jones and Merle Haggard. Well, as Rank and File demonstrated at the 9:30 club last night, it has a firm grasp of the most important and elusive qualities of the new rock--a joyous sense of discovery that comes from shaping something fresh, even radical.

All night the buoyant harmonies of Tony and Chip Kinman and the latter's wild dashes across the stage projected a classically American sense of optimism and confidence. It was as though they knew they had the ghost of every country legend behind them exhorting them to rock this downtown dance club.

Rank and File is hardly a bunch of hillbillies, however. The almost manic energy of songs like "Coyote" owed much to the band's previous experience in punk groups. Likewise, the ringing guitars, pretty melodies and harmonies that graced songs like "I Went Walking" revealed debts to Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers and the Beatles.

Perhaps best of all were the group's mythic tales like "Sundown" sung in Tony Kinman's rumbling baritone. Here the influences seem to fade, revealing one of the most original and compelling new rock 'n' roll bands around.