by Ben Greenman
Jason & the Scorchers were one of the bright lights of the mid-eighties, fusing rock guitars, punk tempos, and country songwriting on albums like “Fervor.” The band’s double-speed take on Bob Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie” confirmed the wisdom of its approach, and the original songs of the lead singer, Jason Ringenberg, demonstrated a dedication to clear-eyed thinking, emotional depth, and sly humor. But then the Scorchers broke up, and Ringenberg embarked on a solo career, part of which involved refashioning himself as a children’s musician named Farmer Jason.
Now, fourteen years on, Ringenberg and the guitarist Warner E. Hodges have reunited and taken on two new members, the bassist Al Collins and the drummer Pontus Snibb, for “Halcyon Times” (Courageous Chicken). The first sounds on the record are Hodges’s guitar, skittering through the opening of “Moonshine Guy,” a sharply funny character sketch (“And he yells, and he roars / Loves the Stones, hates the Doors / Thinks the Beatles sing for girls / He’s a moonshine guy in a six-pack world”). The songs on “Halcyon Times,” uniformly excellent, move from affecting workingman ballads (“Mother of Greed,” a multi-generational epic that begins in Wales in 1910) to breathtakingly forceful country-tinged power pop (“Mona Lee,” which comes off like Southern-fried Cheap Trick) to a moody story-song about the vagaries of the music business (“Twang Town Blues,” which quotes liberally from Dylan and Johnny Cash). Hodges plays with as much joy and abandon as the songs demand, which is a tremendous amount; the soaring “Golden Days” is an autobiographical testament to the salvific power of music and girls. The kindred spirit Dan Baird drops by to sing on “When Did It Get So Easy (To Lie to Me),” and the album closes with “We’ve Got It Goin’ On,” which plays like a tour through thirty-five years of punk-rock energy, from the Ramones to the Replacements to Green Day. The Scorchers always had one of the best band names, and now they have one of the best bands again.