If anything positive can be said about the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that lockdown restrictions forced many musicians away from touring and into their sheds and back bedrooms to write and produce new music. One such example is Illinois-born and Tennessee-based Jason Ringenberg, formerly of alt-country-rock-folk troubadours Jason and the Scorchers. Known for energetic and eclectic live shows, they were pioneers for genres such as cowpunk. While presently no longer touring and recording with the Scorchers, Ringenberg has set up his own record label, the wonderfully-named Courageous Chicken Music, and released a new solo album of songs, 'Rhinestoned', written and produced during the 2020 lockdown in the US.
Recording, Ringenberg writes, was a “rather lonesome process”. Produced by George Bradfute, who also plays many of the instruments, other contributors to Rhinestoned include Steve Ebe on drums and Fats Kaplin on steel guitar and fiddle, and Ringenberg’s daughters Addie and Camille on harmony vocals and piano.
The album launches with the AOR-style ‘Before Love and War’, followed by ‘The Freedom Rides Weren’t Free’, a comment upon the Freedom Riders of 1961, groups of white and African-American civil rights activists who rode buses through the American South which at the time were segregated, in order to protest and try to force change. Here Ringenberg shows his skill as a wordsmith, in the vein of Johnny Cash; “Who’d have thought an old bus/Would be a battleground/Where just a few brave souls stood against the tide/To make their stand for justice and make the Freedom Rides.”
‘Nashville Without Rhinestones’ is a beautifully produced, traditional country-style track, with lovely slide guitar. Then follows a cover of the Carter Family’s ‘The Storms Are on the Ocean’, Ringenberg’s vocals sweetly counterpointed by guest singer Kristi Rose. A gospel interlude follows, Ringenberg’s take on Charles Wesley’s 'Christ the Lord is Risen Today;; followed by ‘I Rode with Crazy Horse’, a re-imagining of the Lakota/Oglala legend that one of Crazy Horse’s cousins rode and fought with him through every battle whilst fighting encroachment by white American settlers on Native American territory. Ringenberg says the song came to him in a dream, and its rattling pace and bubbling banjo evokes the furious battles fought with General Custer.
The autobiographical ‘My Highway Songs’ features lovely mandolin twinkling through slide guitar. Then follows two more covers,‘Timewarp’ by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and ‘You Win Again’ by Hank Williams, the latter blues-suffused through Ringenberg’s harmonica skills. ‘Stoned on Rhinestones’ tells how hearing the music of Williams changed Ringenberg’s life (“I’m hooked on Hank and a Stetson hat”). ‘Keep That Promise’ takes us back to old Jason and the Scorchers territory, a driving rock song which is also released as a single.
‘Window Town’ seems, whether subconsciously or not, partly inspired by Covid-19 lockdowns: ”On a hill outside of town/There’s a light that’s shining down/Through the window I can see/It’s there waiting for you and me.”
'Rhinestoned', the album financed through a crowdfunding appeal to Ringenberg’s fans and supporters, is an accomplished set of songs from one of the pioneers of Country-influenced rock.
by Julie Cruickshank