Friday, 15 March 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Jason Ringenberg - Stand Tall : Courageous Chicken Music (Out in the UK 15th March)

It may be closing in on forty years since Jason Ringenberg broke the seal on a charge to music fame, but fans, folks and insiders still lend an ear to the issuing of new material. That time is now upon us as STAND TALL signals the end of a major hiatus of solo recordings (bar the Farmer Jason output) and a lengthy period since a Scorchers name appeared on an album. Of course, the live presence of Jason and the Scorchers and the solo shows of Jason Ringenberg flicker on and off the horizon, with the latter getting a renewed focus in light of a record that sparkles with the old magic. ‘Godfather of Americana’ and ‘architect of cow punk’ never lose their relevance as the new album reasserts a stance that country music works well when given a makeover fuelled by the energy and passion of an alternative edge.

STAND TALL is a meaningful mix of originals, covers and classic re-works, all bound by a commission to seek inspiration in Sequoia National Park in northern California. From the opening strains of an instrumental under the banner of the album title to an obscure Dylan cover in the guise of ‘Farewell Angelina’, Ringenberg resonates with an attentive listener, blending the curious with the informative, while never losing sight of recording a good solid accessible song.

Early spins of this record led the listener in the direction of ‘God Bless The Ramones’ and subsequent plays refused to relinquish this track as being at least the most ear catching moment. We head back to the early eighties in more ways than one as Ringenberg recalls a moment when his Scorchers went on the road opening for The Ramones, deciding that you might as well make a song in the style of the subject. Splendid listening, more so if you have a soft spot for a bygone age.

Although a significant proportion of the new songs sprung up in the surroundings of the Californian residency, some had a more direct link to the environment such as the explicitly titled, ‘Here in the Sequoias’ and the follow on track ‘John Muir Stood Here’. Sequencing also plays a part in the album’s midriff as the story song ‘I’m Walking Home’ immediately follows a cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ ‘Hobo Bill’s Last Ride’, the former written on the way to Bristol VA/TN and the second a product of the legendary recordings in this iconic country music town.

Early in the album (specifically bridging the opener and the Ramones stand out) sit a pair of tracks that demonstrates Ringenberg’s songwriting still at its sharpest. Both ‘Lookin’ Back Blues’ and ‘John the Baptist was a Real Humdinger’ inject a stimulus into the proceedings in a way that Jason Ringenberg has perfected for many a year. No matter how much rock ‘n’ roll figures in the sound, the country element remains steadfast, culminating in a style that flourishes with a hearty vigour.

To conclude a brief skirt around the eleven tracks, Ringenberg salutes the work of others on two more numbers. ‘Almost Enough’ is a jaunty rhythmic dip into the songwriting skills of Hugh Deneal, giving the album another song to both savour and get your teeth into. Wrapping things up is a version of a song Jean Shepherd put her mark on, and Jason Ringenberg also does justice to ‘Many Happy Hangover to You’.

There is barely a moment on STAND TALL where Jason Ringenberg makes a false move. The unique sound and style ensures no straying into the wastelands of irrelevance, and thus any desire to hark back too much to the halcyon days of Jason and the Scorchers. This album is a timely reminder to what a good artist we have in our midst. Expect no half measures when Jason Ringenberg is in recording mode and the fruits of this latest endeavour unveil as a highly enjoyable listen on many fronts.