Twangfest 14 headliners' first studio CD in 14 years is 'a career record'


By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


June 4, 2010

For a band that was given a lifetime achievement award a couple of years ago as if its fire had gone out, Jason & the Scorchers are remarkably ablaze, with an excellent new album and a headlining date here next week ((June 12)) closing Twangfest 14.

The reignition is at least the third incarnation for the band, which will cap four nights of music at the Tap Room and Blueberry Hill featuring Ray Wylie Hubbard, Blue Rodeo, the Detroit Cobras, Big Smith and Ozark rockers Ha Ha Tonka.

Critics and fans of the Scorchers have been happily surprised by the quality of “Halcyon Times,” the band's first studio album in 14 years. They're not alone.

“To be honest with you, I'm quite surprised myself,” front man Jason Ringenberg, fresh from a European tour, said recently from his home in Nashville, Tenn. “I never thought we'd ever make this level of a record. I really thought we would make a sort of good Scorchers record, and people would be happy we're back and wish us well. I did not think we would make a career record. And that's what we've done.”

For the past decade, Ringenberg, 51, had pursued a successful solo career, alternating between personas of frenetic singer-songwriter and that of Farmer John, a kids entertainer. Except for sporadic shows and short tours, his days of fronting the Scorchers seemingly were behind him.

But in 2008, the Americana Music Association gave the Scorchers a lifetime achievement award for performance, reviving interest in a trailblazing band that married punk rock and country twang in the early '80s – long before Uncle Tupelo. The Scorchers' adrenaline- and sweat-soaked shows were


June 9 through June 12, 2010, with headliners Jason & the Scorchers, Detroit Cobras, Blue Rodeo, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Big Smith

Four-night tickets
-- Friends of Twangfest “Dan Pack,” $125; includes tickets, house-concert invitation, a T-shirt and other perks.
-- Four-night pass: $70


June 9
Where: Schlafly's Tap Room, 2100 Locust Street
How much: $15 at the door
More info: 314-241-2337

-- Acoustic cousins Big Smith of Springfield, Mo.
-- Rootsy singer Shannon McNally and her band Hot Sauce, of Oxford, Miss.
-- Colonel Ford of St. Louis, featuring members of the Rockhouse Ramblers.

June 10 through June 12
Where: Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, 6504 Delmar Boulevard
How much: $20, available at Blueberry Hill (no service charge) or Ticketmaster.

June 10
-- Oklahoma native Ray Wylie Hubbard, a country “outlaw” veteran and writer of the timeless “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother”
-- Blue Rodeo, Canada's biggest alt-country band still waiting for recognition here.
-- These United States, an indie band called “punky-tonk” by the New York Times, eclectic by others.
-- Magnolia Summer of St. Louis

June 11
-- Detroit Cobras of Detroit, with singer Rachel Nagy, prove soul is not dead.
-- Those Darlins of Murfreesboro, Tenn., three women who mix punk, rock, pop and country.
-- JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound of Chicago, billed as “Otis Redding fronting the Kingsmen.”

June 12
-- Jason & the Scorchers (see main story)
-- Ha Ha Tonka of Springfield, Mo., standout Ozark rockers and breakout Twangfest hit two years ago.
-- Magnolia Mountain, bringing folk and Americana from Cincinnati.
legendary, and their mix of original songs and punked-up country classics was audacious.

With buzz building, Scorchers Guitarist Warner E. Hodges went to work, bringing in a new rhythm section -- bassist Al Collins and Swedish drummer Pontus Snibb -- and leaning on Ringenberg.

“I don't know if it was 'keeping the band alive' as much as feeling like we still had something to say,” Hodges says on the band's website. “I still felt, all these years later, that we had a great record in us.”

Ringenberg decided to give it another try after Hodges “kept insisting and kept insisting.” Hodges assembled an all-star team of songwriters, including Georgia Satellite Dan Baird, Tommy Womack and Ginger Walls of Britain's Wildhearts, to work with the band.

That took some of the pressure off Ringenberg, who worried the he “would have the time to write the kind of record that would hold up to the Scorchers' legacy. And having guys like that, it definitely makes it easier for me.”

The result is a stunning album that preserves the breakneck spirit of the Scorchers but embraces who Ringenberg and Hodges are today. If it looks back, as on “Golden Days,” it does so without wallowing in nostalgia. Themes of family, hard work and perseverance run through the album, and Ringenberg's voice has never been better than on the mandolin-flavored mining saga “Beat on the Mountain.”

So Ringenberg can be excused for taking a well-deserved victory lap.

“I think we're certainly better musicians (today), and I think we've learned how to get along better,” he says of the Scorchers' latest incarnation. “And I think we enjoy it more because we're having fun and making good music. There's not a big disappointment factor that comes with trying to become famous.”

Ringenberg, son of an Illinois pig farmer, rolled into Nashville in 1981 driving

a beat-up van stuffed with musical instruments, equipment and dreams of being as big as Bruce Springsteen.

“I wanted to change the world,” he says. “There is no question about that. I moved into Nashville with those romantic dreams in my head.

“And what can I say? A lot of it came true. I'm a lucky fella.”