Jason Ringenberg contemplates the soul of a rebel with 'Stand Tall'
What defines a rebel? The Hollywood template of a rebel is James Dean, the rugged bad boy who lives on the fringes of the law, but whose smirking charm wins support. But, at its core, a rebel is simply someone who stands in opposition to government or societal rules of order, right or wrong. That definition makes for some strange bedfellows. Robert E. Lee was a rebel, but so was Martin Luther King, Jr. Jason Ringenberg knows a thing or two about being outside the establishment. As frontman for influential '80s cowpunk band Jason & the Scorchers, he led the charge for a handful of acts challenging the notion that Nashville's moniker of “Music City, USA” only meant country music. Now, almost four decades after his group staged their own Music Row coup, Jason Ringenberg is releasing his latest solo album, Stand Tall, on Feb. 8 and he is still pondering what it means to be a rebel.
It's a pretty easy sell to paint The Ramones as rebels. The punk rock pioneers built an entire career of zigging when other bands, even within their own genre. While The Sex Pistols were the epitome of the snarling bad boy, The Ramones employed surf-rock harmonies and fun-loving attitudes to give an entirely different definition to punk. “God Bless The Ramones” tells the tale of Jason & the Scorchers' stint as the opening act for The Ramones in a 1982 swing through Texas. While The Ramones' influence on The Scorchers was never in doubt, Ringenberg gives an insider view of how The Ramones were perceived in those days (“Most folks either hated them or thought that they were funny”). We also get a peek into how the band's partisans reacted to a punk/metal band with a country singer (they mostly threw beer at them), contrasted with the band's own kindness, with Dee Dee loaning their bassist strings and feeding them when they showed up in Texas with barely more than their instruments.
Of course, who better to follow up a tale of a rebellious punk rock band than with another rebel, John the Baptist? No, really. The guy from The Bible. On “John the Baptist Was a Real Humdinger”, Ringenberg makes a compelling argument that John is the perfect distillation of the definition “rebel.” John traveled the land preaching the same heresies that got Jesus crucified, but where his cousin delivered his message in gentle tones and peaceful parables, John was a firebrand, as Ringenberg puts it “spitting words like a punk rock singer.”
The third rebel featured on Stand Tall is another out of left field choice. “John Muir Stood Here” is the most obviously influenced by Ringenberg's stint as Artist in Residence at Sequoia National Park. Here, Ringenberg sings the praises of conservationist and Sierra Club co-founder John Muir, whose activism helped save California's Giant Sequoia trees from being cut down by developers and helped form the idea of a national forest system.
While those three tales comprise only a small portion of the 11 tracks on Stand Tall, they're the undisputed standout tracks, but by no means the only good ones. Elsewhere, Ringenberg pens his own gentle ode to Sequoia National Park (“Here in the Sequoias”), tackles hypocrisy (“Almost Enough”), eulogizes a marginalized “railroad bum” (Hobo Bill's Last Ride), and delves into pure old fashioned rockabilly drinking song (“Many Happy Hangovers to You”).
It's taken Jason Ringenberg 15 years to release a new album of solo material after 2004's Empire Builders, with only a 2010 Jason & the Scorchers reunion record to sate his fans' appetite. But the wait has been worthwhile. While Jason Ringenberg's sound may have tilted more Americana than punk in the years since The Scorchers debuted, though many would say that band did a lot of the trailblazing for what Americana would become (a notion borne out by the band's 2008 Americana Lifetime Achievement Honor), the Nashville rock rebel who thrilled fans weekly on WKDF's Nashville tapes throughout the '80s is alive and well and still defiant enough to proudly Stand Tall.
Want to catch Jason Ringenberg live? He's playing a four week residency at Nashville's The 5 Spot before heading to the UK with The Scorchers for a tour. Here are the dates:
Feb. 7- The 5 Spot- Nashville, TN
Feb. 14- The 5 Spot- Nashville, TN
Feb. 21- The 5 Spot- Nashville, TN
Feb. 28- The 5 Spot- Nashville, TN
Mar. 9- The Varsity Center- Carbondale, IL