Jason & the Scorchers

Halcyon Times

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On paper and at first glance, Jason and the Scorchers' Halcyon Times doesn't look too promising -- first studio album since 1996, only half the original band is on board, lots of guest musicians and writers in the credits, and hasn't Jason Ringenberg been making a lot of children's music lately? But put the album into the player, press play, and prepare to be amazed -- Halcyon Times may well be the best and most consistently strong album JATS have released since Lost and Found in 1985. Despite a long layoff, frontman Ringenberg and lead guitarist Warner Hodges sound as if they've been kicking out their countrified hard rock jams without a break on these sessions, and they reveal as much firepower now as ever, with Ringenberg in excellent voice and Hodges showing he's still one of the most underrated guitarists punishing a six-string today. Health problems have sidelined original drummer Perry Baggs, but the group's new timekeeper, Pontus Snibb, fits these guys better than any guy from Sweden should, and bassist Al Collins sinks the low end with just the right swing and no needless fuss. The bulk of Halcyon Days was cut live in the studio and rings out with the energy and swagger of a band letting loose on-stage; if this rocks just a little bit less than Jason and the Scorchers did in their glory days, cuts like "Getting' Nowhere Fast," "We've Got It Goin' On," and "Better Than This" suggest the story in the liner notes -- that the group was given an award by the recording studio for being the loudest band to ever work there -- is no exaggeration. When the band turns down the amps, they show their restless country soul is still working overtime on "Mother of Greed" and "When Did It Get So Easy (To Lie to Me)." And if some friends pitched in to write the songs and help out in the studio, all the way down the line, this sounds like classic Jason and the Scorchers, from the righteous fire of the music to the heartfelt tales of tough times and tough people in the lyrics (which manage to sound up to date without forcing a new attitude on the band). And it's nice to hear a group of middle-aged men sing a song about their youth that actually ends on an optimistic note, as Jason and the Scorchers do on the title tune. And why not -- Halcyon Times shows that this band of hardened veterans haven't just survived, they've learned a few things and can still rock harder than most bands half their age. Don't call it a comeback -- this is more like a late-career triumph.

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