Although, they only actually officially split up once, Cowpunk Godfathers JASON & THE SCORCHERS have pretty much existed on an 'occasional gig only' basis since their triumphant live album 'Midnight Roads & Stages Seen' in 1998. Since that time, the band's original rhythm section, Perry Baggs and Jeff Johnson have drifted away and frontman Jason Ringenberg has found alternative fame with his 'Farmer Jason' Kids-Rock persona. Over the past few years, the frontman has admitted, he'd been “waiting for a good excuse to retire JATS.”
However, despite this apparent slide towards extinction, Scorchers' guitarist Warner E.Hodges has remained firm in his belief for the band's future. He's on record as saying “Jason & The Scorchers just wasn't over in my head. I felt we had a bunch more music in us.” 'Halcyon Times' suggests the formidable, Telecaster-wielding torch-bearer was spot on all along, for the resulting album – with new rhythm section Al Collins and Swedish drummer Pontus Snibb fitting like an envelope round a cheque – is vintage, vicious Scorchers in the main. Indeed, after a couple of cursory listens, you're mostly moved to enquire “what took you so long?”
To these ears, mind, the album does trip up getting off the block. The opening 'Moonshine Guy/Releasing Celtic Prisoners' slips into a monster spring-heeled Cowpunk Ramones groove with '19th Nervous Breakdown' bass runs from Collins, but its' all-too-obvious “he's a moonshine guy in a 6-pack world” chorus and mystifying Celtic Rock excursion veers from lunkheaded to mystifying in this writer's mind and ends up falling well short of the mark for all its' bluster.
Thankfully, it's the only blank in the chamber. The moving, mid-paced coal-miner's lament 'Beat on the Mountain' finds Ringenberg letting rip with one of his most plaintive vocals and the ensuing 'Mona Lee' is the first example of quintessential Scorchers rollerama at full pelt with Ringenberg throwing out tough, yardstick-measuring lyrics (“it doesn't matter what we knew in 1993/ everything has gotta change, including you and me”) and a gleeful Hodges making rubble of his amp stack.
Generous dollops of the album continue to take care of business at hip level. Raucous outings like 'Better Than This', 'Deep Holy Water' and the defiantly Punky rough-house 'We've Got It Goin' On' roll along like vintage Cadillacs with their wheels laced and true and Hodges lobbing swaggering riffs around like it was it his last day on Earth. 'Golden Days' lyric, meanwhile, supplies the album's title and finds Ringenberg painting a convincing portrait of late teenage (“I was 19 and the world was mine”) but with an eye on the future and an underlying tinge of sadness and vulnerability that's unusual for the Scorchers but no less satisfying for all that.
Besides, it's a foolish man who condemns JATS as merely groin-level rockers. While there's no doubting their energy and drive, they also have the depth and skill to turn tricks like the slow-burning epic 'Mother of Greed' (apparently Ringenberg's family history from Wales in 1910 to Alabama 2009), pull out the acoustics for the rollin', bluesy 'When Did it Get So Easy (to Lie to Me)' or deliver a graceful slice of Byrds-y spangle pop for the wonderful 'Days of Wine & Roses' where Hodges digs deep and pulls out perhaps his most eloquent guitar solo to date. And hell, he's already got some fierce competition from his own back catalogue.
It's tempting to greet the arrival of 'Halcyon Times' with notices of “notable return to form” and the like, but really Jason & The Scorchers never really went off the boil stylistically, they merely went on hiatus. It is true, however, that their 'third coming' of sorts will probably find them hailed as Roots-Rock pioneers all over again. Sounds fair to me. They've earned that distinction and more besides.
by Tim Peacock