Jason Ringenberg will forever be first remembered as the leader of the influential Jason and the Scorchers. A rocking, twangy outfit, the Scorchers made Nashville acknowledge the rock and roll hidden in its heart, and blazed their way into alt-country history before the genre really even existed. Naturally, Ringenberg’s solo career—a prolific one since 2000’s Pocketful of Soul—doesn’t possess the earth-shaking feel of his former band, despite following a similar template. Numerous bands have taken what the Scorchers did and gone their own way with it, and Ringenberg, for his part, has seemed content to nestle into the comfort of the sound he helped create. That’s resulted in a collection of solid records, each with a few great songs.
Best Tracks and Side Tracks looks to bring much of that best material together. The collection starts off with two re-recorded tracks, each redone for different reasons. Ringenberg gave “Shop it Around” new lyrics and a new recording simply because he wanted to, and because he thought it could improve the song. He re-recorded “Life of the Party” because of licensing issues with his 1992 solo debut (while still with the Scorchers),
. From there, Disc One (“Best Tracks”) is a non-chronological walk through his catalog, featuring highlights like his duet with Steve Earle on “Bible and a Gun”, his raucous run through Stace England’s “Prosperity Train”, pensive tracks like “Eddie Rode the Orphan Train” and “Chief Joseph’s Last Dream”, and a couple of collaborations (joining Los Straitjackets for the reverb-wallowing “Link Wray” and the Woodbox Gang for a remake of Ringenberg’s old “Broken Whiskey Glass”).
Disc Two (“Side Tracks”) finds Ringenberg presenting the quirky side of his solo career. “Lovely Christmas” (with Kati Rose) blends torch-and-twang vocals full of traditional cozy Christmas imagery with punkish outbursts about shopping hassles and credit card debt. “Moose on the Loose”, from Ringenberg’s Rockin’ in the Forest with Farmer Jason children’s record, finds Ringenberg sharing vocals with Todd Snider and letting Webb Wilder rap his way through the song’s fadeout. There are even some unreleased cuts, such as the Shakespeare’s Riot version of “Help There’s a Fire” (complete with Elvis-style vocals), an attempt at “Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs” that was rejected from a Tom T. Hall tribute disc, and Ringenbergs’s “Mom’s 70th Birthday Song” that he wrote for his mother during the Pocketful of Soul sessions. Perhaps the best unreleased cut, and one of the best songs on the entire collection, is the rousing “Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Blue Yodel”, which deserves to stand with the hottest Scorchers classics.
Because of the way Ringenberg plays with the song selection on Best Tracks and Side Tracks, even diehard Ringenberg fans should find something of interest. The re-recordings typically give his songs new personalities, and it’s unlikely that many fans have all of the material on the Side Tracks portion. New fans, though, or people with a casual interest about Ringenberg, though, couldn’t ask for a better introduction. This collection captures the acoustic balladry, the tear-in-your-beer twang, and the guitar noise that have all been parts of Ringenberg’s career, both with the Scorchers and after.