Jason & The Scorchers: Halcyon Times

The last time I mentioned Jason and The Scorchers on this site was the fall of 2008. The band had just been named the recipients of a Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance from the Americana Music Association. It was a well deserved honor… but the usual implication when a group receives such an award is that their best creative output is behind them. It’s time to celebrate what they’ve done in the past with not much effort spent looking to the future.

In 2008, there was no reason to believe that wasn’t what was happening to The Scorchers. The band was 12 years removed from their last studio album, and front man Jason Ringenberg had been almost as focused on his children’s music alter-ego, Farmer Jason, as he had the fiery mix of punk and country that made up The Scorchers’ primary sound. It seemed as though the reuniting of the original band line-up at the 2008 Americana Awards & Honors show would merely be a curtain call at the end of a hugely influential, if slightly under appreciated, career.
Jason and The Scorchers have just released Halcyon Times, their first album of new material in 14 years, and they sound just as vital and vibrant as ever. From the opening bombast of “Moonshine Guy/Releasing Celtic Prisoners,” Ringenberg and guitarist Warner Hodges (the two original members involved in this release) let the listener know they aren’t ready to rest on their reputation… they have more to give.
Overall, the record has a slightly more subdued feel than some of the albums the band put out in their younger days. When they do turn it loose, however, it’s not hard to imagine yourself back at one of The Scorchers’ legendary Nashville shows when the band was at the height of it’s Hank-meets-The Clash prowess. On the opening track, Hodges fires lick after lick as Ringenberg sings of a protagonist who, “Loves the Stones. Hates the Doors.” Similarly, tracks like “Better Than This” and “We’ve Got it Goin’ On” give Hodges, along with new members Pontus Snibb (drums) and Al Collins (bass) a chance to really get a work out.
It’s the quieter moments, though, that really make this record stand out. Although they can sound like it at times, this isn’t the same band that made its reputation through sheer fire and intensity. The band has matured, and the songs on this record prove it. “Beat on the Mountain” is a modern coal mining anthem made even more poignant in the wake of the disaster in West Virginia. “Mother of Greed” deals with the plight of the working man over three generations… and across an ocean. “Twang Town Blues” deals more with the greed inherent within the music industry and the pitfalls of chasing fame. There’s a wonderful turn of a phrase in “Twang Town Blues” where the narrator references Johnny Cash then watches the subject of the song, “kill a six-pack just to watch it die.”
In the past couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Brian Henneman of The Bottle Rockets and Chip Robinson of The Backsliders. Both were big players in the halcyon days of the alt-country movement, both have recently released new albums, and both referred to their new songs as songs they couldn’t have written during the early days of their careers. They referred to a maturity in themselves and their songwriting that just wasn’t present before. For Jason & The Scorchers, these songs have that same feel.
The centerpiece of the album, “Golden Times,” encompasses that feeling perfectly. The song finds Ringenberg looking back on younger days and halcyon times (this is the song that gave the album its title). Girls, cars, music… all the trappings of youth are fondly remembered. Through all the reminiscing, however, Ringenberg reminds us that those times from the past have brought him to the “golden days” of the present.
That song also sums up the album quite nicely as well. Halcyon Times is built on musical nods to Jason & The Scorchers’ past… but it refuses to let you ignore their present.
Jason & The Scorchers: Golden Days (Buy Album)

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