Jason & the Scorchers

Rock on Germany

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This "official" CD issue of a bootleg LP is many things: first, it's a portrait of this band at the height of their power. In June of 1985, Jason & the Scorchers had proven to be the first totally country/totally hard rock band in the world. They owed as much to the Sex Pistols and the Clash as they did Hank Williams and Buck Owens. (And don't give me a hard time about the Byrds or Lynyrd Skynyrd either -- the Byrds weren't a hard rock band and Skynyrd only referenced country music, they used more of the blues in their mix.) Second thing is: They were one of the wildest live bands in America at the time, during a period where there wasn't exactly a lot of exciting live music. In fact, it can be argued there weren't any rock bands at all at the time except in the underground. Third, it was this unheralded unit that was the true wave rider for alt-country. Forget the Old 97s or the Bottlerockets. The Scorchers didn't need corny humor because they had all the pieces. With Jason's killer songwriting and stage presence and Warren Hodges' truly otherworldly guitar playing (he is the definition of a "guitar slinger"), and an energy level most hardcore bands couldn't match -- not for an hour and a half, anyway. Lastly, this is the sound of this band's moment. And that was all they had, a shift in the hourglass before it got turned right side up again. This set is an eye-opener. Musically, the rockabilly and hard country styles of Williams and his contemporaries are wedded to punk rock's energy and hard rock's sophisticated musicality and comes off as raw as a scrape. What makes this disc so revelatory -- by the way, it was mastered from an LP; you can hear the pops but it adds to the set's rock & roll ethos -- is that this gig was played in front of a sparse audience, referenced a few times by Jason throughout. But you'd never know it by the performance. It was as if they were playing for the audience at the U.S. Festival (remember them?). They rip through their own gems like "Shop It Around," "Broken Whiskey Glass," "Hot Nights in Georgia," "Last Time Around," "White Lies," and "Pray for Me Momma - I'm a Gypsy Now," defining them as live songs as opposed to their recordings, which are also smokin'. However, what defines the Scorchers as a great band is the original manner in which they cover the songs of other people: from Leon Payne's "Lost Highway" and Williams' "You Win Again" and "Honky Tonk Blues" to John Fogerty's "Travelin' Band," Neil Young's "Are You Ready for the Country," and a version of Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie" that would make Dylan proud -- or jealous. These songs they put their indelible stamp on, reclaiming them for their own generation, making sure they went on, wider, deeper than before, as valid for any rock & roll generation as they were for the pop and country generations that preceded them. The sound isn't perfect here, but more than adequate; after a track or two, the music is so damn hot, it isn't even an issue. As a document, this is a field recording worth preserving, as a rock & roll record it's worth listening to over and over again.

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