By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
Released in 2000 on Ringenberg's own Courageous Chicken label, A Pocketful of Soul opens with the sound of the wind whipping across the plains, followed by Ringenberg's endearingly heartfelt voice wailing, "Oh, lonesome prairie, I know it's time/To go and see you and free my mind/Those fields of green are calling me/Oh, lonesome prairie eternally." The homespun album garnered strong reviews, ending up on a number of critics' best-of lists. Peter Cooper, writing in the Tennessean, raved, "Jason Ringenberg is Nashville's most electrifying performer, but his most enduring attribute -- songwriting -- is also his most criminally overlooked."
"That was a complete surprise to me, how well it did," Ringenberg says. "I had absolutely no expectations. I originally recorded that record just for my fans and friends. I never intended for it to launch another career, which is pretty much what it did."
Ringenberg ended up touring extensively behind A Pocketful of Soul, "way more than I expected to," he says. Traveling alone with just an acoustic guitar, he found himself jamming with a number of folks on the road, something he'd never really done before. He got ready to record again. "It seemed only natural to carry that convivial spirit onto the new recording," he says, referring to All Over Creation, released in August.
For the album, on Chapel Hill-based Yep Roc Records, Ringenberg enlisted help from some of his left-of-center musical buddies, including Earle, Paul Burch, Tommy Womack, Kristi Rose, Todd Snider, the Wildhearts, Lambchop, Swan Dive and others. Unlike the folkier Pocketful of Soul, All Over Creation is a stylistic grab bag, with hard country ("I Dreamed My Baby Came Home"), exuberant rockabilly ("Honky Tonk Maniac From Mars"), story songs ("Bible and a Gun 1863"), wistful pop ("Camille," an ode to one of his daughters), historical ballads ("Erin's Seed"), and Scorchers-esque rock and roll ("Too High to See"). Backed by retro honky-tonkers BR549, Ringenberg even does a surprisingly straight version of Loretta Lynn's classic "Don't Come Home A Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)."
"The biggest challenge was to get the sequencing right," Ringenberg says of the album. "I tried to kind of make the songs flow into one another."
The singer-songwriter now spends much of his time on the road, often in Europe, where he has a strong following and where out-of-the-mainstream country music does quite well. "They really, as a whole, just don't understand why anyone would like Garth Brooks," says Ringenberg, who, beginning in October, will spend nearly six months on the other side of the Atlantic. (Before leaving, he'll host the first Americana Awards Show in Nashville, which is sponsored by the three-year-old Americana Music Association.)
As for the Scorchers, Ringenberg isn't quite ready to pronounce the group dead, but he concedes that they have no plans at the moment to get back together. Bassist Johnson left for good in 1998, and drummer Baggs recently threw in the towel. "I'm still psychologically reeling from Perry being gone," Ringenberg says. "We've done a few shows without him, and we rock, but replacing Perry is much more difficult than replacing Jeff. I don't know that we'll recover from that."
Meanwhile, Ringenberg seems quite happy as a solo artist. For his live shows, he likes to mix up old Scorchers numbers, newer songs and diverse covers, like Gram Parsons's "In My Hour of Darkness," Jimmie Rodgers's "Hobo Bill's Last Ride" and REM's "Rockville."
"It's an absolute hoot," he says. "I'm loving every minute of it. I can do things like go to Denver and play with another band." (For his Colorado gigs, Ringenberg will be backed by Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys.)
Several years ago, a curator at the Country Music Hall of Fame asked Ringenberg if he would lend his Fervor-era Scorchers stage outfit to be displayed among the museum's stunning collection of artifacts. "I didn't appreciate it at the time," he says, "but now, not a week goes by that a friend or someone in the music world will call and say, 'I saw your outfit in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and it freaked me out!' My friend Paul Burch said, 'Man, that brought me to tears. Here was one of our guys -- here!' It really has validated what we did."