Stand Tall, the new solo album from Jason and the Scorchers‘ Jason Ringenberg, opens with a spectacular instrumental. This title track, a steely composition of orchestral Americana, is a majestic, wordless paean to the equally wordless giant sequoias that inspired and soar behind the album.
Those three minutes of grandeur give way to a bright novelty country-rocker. Such contrasts carry through this whole project, on which Ringenberg reunites with early bandmates. “This mind I’m driving ain’t got no kind of brakes,” he sings in “Lookin’ Back Blues.” It’s evident both musically and thematically that while his muse does know how to stop, she doesn’t know the meaning of getting stuck in a rut.
“John the Baptist Was a Real Humdinger” recalls the country-religious crossover songs of the likes of the Louvin Brothers, and its pounding beat and cathedral-sized echoes signal seriously colorful storytelling. The lyrics picture the saint “spitting words like a punk rock singer.” It’s a perfect lead-in to “God Bless the Ramones,” which Ringenberg recollects his band’s opening dates for the punk-rock legends in 1982.
The tone goes Celtic for the epic “I’m Walking Home.” Reaching back into history, this Civil War survival tale in an implied forward reversal looks ahead to Vietnam: “They loaded me into a shoddy old freight car / To fight in a cause that I just couldn’t see.” The antiwar theme continues in a sharp take on the bitter Hugh Deneal song “Almost Enough.”
“Hobo’s Last Ride” switches to a respectful high-lonesome mode to tell a more personal tale. Earnestness (not a word I’d normally use in connection with Jason and the Scorchers) of another kind manifests in the sweet, simple “Here in the Sequoias,” those “giant angels” under which “the daily greed evaporates” and “peace pervades.” The band cranks it up to rock hard honoring a pioneering environmentalist in “John Muir Stood Here.”
The disc closes with the old-timey gem “Many Happy Hangovers to You” and a reverent acoustic cover of Bob Dylan’s “Farewell Angelina,” in which Ringenberg seems to channel Townes Van Zandt’s wobbly sensitivity.
Though not a concept album, this wonderful collection keeps its thumb on the pulses of our hurting planet and our aching human race, with Ringenberg’s unmistakable voice diving and leaping with focus and flash from song to song and mode to mode, backed by a top-gun band. Releasing Feb. 7, Stand Tall is available now for pre-order.