by Gene Triplett
Without Jason & the Scorchers and a few other ’80s cowpunk pioneers, there might never have been an Uncle Tupelo and the "No Depression” alternative country movement of the ’90s and ’00s that produced such bands as Whiskeytown, Bottle Rockets, Drive-by Truckers, the Old 97’s and the late, lamented Slobberbone. Jason Ringenberg and company’s 1983 speed-twang cover of Bob Dylan’s "Absolutely Sweet Marie” is the stuff of legend. And while this Nashville, Tenn., foursome’s superb studio albums have been precious few and far between since then, their sixth full-length record, "Halcyon Times,” proves they can still breathe prairie fire.
Aided by original Scorchers guitarist Warner Hodges and the brawny new rhythm section comprised of bassist Al Collins and drummer Pontus Snibb, former Illinois farm boy Ringenberg brings genuine rural ties plus a highly developed urban savvy to bear on his music, resulting in such double-time rockabilly knee-slappers as "Moonshine Guy / Taking Celtic Prisoners,” where he sings of a two-fisted misfit who "yells and roars / Likes the Stones / Hates the Doors / Thinks the Beatles sing for girls,” and Hodges breaks off into an unexpected European folk-influenced guitar break that somehow fits in the middle of the barroom fray.
Ringenberg and Hodges reference mixed influences as diverse as Hank Williams/Johnny Cash and the Rolling Stones/Ramones on such rockers as "Mona Lee,” "Golden Days” and "Deep Holy Water,” then tone down to an acoustic shimmer on ballads like the mandolin-laced "Mother of Greed” and "Beat on the Mountain.”
Whatever gear he’s in, Ringenberg’s inimitably expressive yowls and moans sound as vital and full of heart as they did at the dawn of this musical hybrid he helped to shape.