By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

September 30, 2004

Jason Ringenberg
"Empire Builders"
Yep Roc Records

Jason Ringenberg, on his fourth post-Scorchers solo CD, goes topical in a series of songs largely written on the road during 2002 and 2003 in Europe and Australia, where he got an earful of what people thought of America and Americans.

The one-time cowpunk rocker bookends the CD with "American Question" and "American Reprieve," essentially asking whether it will be possible for the United States to live up to its ideals and morals while pursuing a foreign policy of bomb first, ask questions later.

With accordion and tuba percolating over a polka beat, Ringenberg takes on the "New-Fashioned Imperialist" who has a giant SUV and insists we still have a lot of oil -- but we'll have to take the other guys' if they don't let us have it.

A startling sight from a train became "Rebel Flag in Germany," which uses a Waylon Jennings vibe to express Ringenberg's disgust with a symbol that "I don't even want to see . . . in Tennessee."

Ringenberg also takes a risk by taking on the persona of a Tuskeegee airman, telling the multigenerational story of one African-American pilot during World War II, and spins a tale about Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez Perce tribe.

Among the best songs are a couple of nontopical tributes. One is a rocker to "Link Wray," the pioneer surf-metal guitarist of "Rumble" fame still power-chording at 75. The other is "Half the Man," a traditional country ballad dedicated to Ringenberg's father ("if I could be just half the man").

Ringenberg may not scorch through the world like he did with his old band, but a more leisurely speed has allowed him to report on what he's seen.