22 February 2010
by Jeff Giles
Jason Ringenberg might have a burgeoning career as the kids’ music cowpoke known as Farmer Jason, but fortunately for us all, he hasn’t forgotten his roots — which means, oh God yes, a new album from cowpunk pioneers Jason & the Scorchers. Spin the volume knob and grab a glass of something bad for you, because rock ‘n’ roll is gloriously, messily, defiantly alive.
Halcyon Times, the band’s first album in far too long (I believe the technical term is “more than a coon’s age”), is 14 tracks of molten, sawdust-scented magic, recorded live in the studio in front of one seriously lucky audience. There are no added ingredients, because the songs don’t need any — it’s just, as the old saying goes, three chords and a cloud of dust.
It’s been a bumpy road for the Scorchers to get here, and although the band has been touring on and off for the last little while, more than a few people probably thought this album would never happen; as Ringenberg jokes in the liner notes, the main reason he agreed to an in-studio reunion was to get his longtime partner, Warner Hodges, to stop bugging him about it. Hats off to Hodges’ persistence, because Halcyon Times is a proud reclamation of the band’s legacy — all loud guitars, punchy drums, insistent bass, and tuneful shouting, all in the service of some truly satisfying (and even moving) songs. The guys Ringenberg and Hodges brought along for the ride certainly don’t hurt: bassist Al Collins and drummer Pontus Snibb have formed the Scorchers’ tight stage pocket for the band’s recent tours, and honorary Scorcher Dan Baird is…well, he’s Dan Baird, mofos, and if you have any love in your heart for this kind of music, you know exactly what it means when you see his name in the liner notes.
Plenty of reunions are unsuccessful attempts to relive past glories, but Halcyon Times is the reverse: Rather than a bunch of guys in their 50s trying to go home again, it’s something deeper — a rekindling of love and respect, fueled by rock ‘n’ roll and powered by amps driven to their limit. There’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek fun to be had — the album’s first track pays tribute to “a moonshine guy in a six-pack world” who “likes the Stones, hates the Doors / Thinks the Beatles sing for girls” — but there are also surprisingly moving moments that underline Ringenberg and Hodges’ enduring musical brotherhood. Read these lyrics from “Days of Wine and Roses,” written by Baird with thoughts of the duo in mind:
Last night I dreamed I was young again
I was wide-eyed and bold
With a fearless heart that just could not be bought and sold
Time can steal most anything, he’s the master thief
He can steal my body, steal my mind
But he can’t shake my belief
Amen. Crank that knob a little higher, will you? And pour another one. We need to play the whole damn album again.