CD Review : Jason and the Scorchers, “Halcyon Times”

“I want out music to be like a religious service, only a lot dirtier.” — Jason Ringerberg

Cow-punk, roots-rock, alt-country, y’alternative, whatever damn term you use for music that hurts like country and hits like rock n’ roll, you’re gonna come back to Jason and the Scorchers.
Since 1981, through break-ups and make-ups, these Nashville vets have been “Damned for all time/to walk both sides of the line.” On one side of that line is guitarist Warner Hodges, who’s more than a little rock n’ roll (unruly hair, flashy solos) and on the other side is singer Jason Ringerberg, who’s a whole lot country (fringed shirts, a heap o’ twang). The band never got their due for the ground they broke, despite having seeded this unholy hybrid when the members of the over-praised Uncle Tupelo were still playing their high school battle of the bands.

Their new album, Halcyon Times, the first since 1996’s Clear Impetuous Morning, is a barn-burner. The band has lost original bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer Perry Baggs but with a new rhythm section in tow they’re carrying on their unwavering devotion to Hank Williams, The Rolling Stones and The Ramones.

So now it’s up to Ringenberg and Hodges (alongside cohorts like Dan Baird of eighties roots-rockers The Georgia Satellite’s and Ginger from ‘90s metal-pop-punks The Wildhearts) to bring the country-noise, which they sure as hell do. Halcyon Days offers up metallic rockers like “It Don’t Get Better Than This,” fuzzed-up rockabilly like “Moonshine Guy” and workin’ man blues like “Beat on the Mountain.” A couple perfunctory rockers like “Fear Not Gear Rot” could have been dropped for some of Ringerberg’s gorgeous hurtin’ ballads, but that just gives them material for the next album: the dreaded follow-up to the big comeback album.

By stomping all over the dividing lines between the urban and rural, the sacred and the profane, country and rock n’ roll, The Scorchers upend long-standing stereotypes of “Good Country People,” in a way that would make the gothic Southern author Flannery O’Connor smile knowingly.

★★★★ out of ★★★★★