Produced by Tom Werman (who made records with rock bands from Mötley Crüe and Molly Hatchet to Cheap Trick and Blue Oyster Cult), 1986′s Still Standing was a move toward the mainstream for Jason & the Scorchers. But in retrospect, it seems more like the beginning of the end of the band that epitomized hard-rocking country in the ’80s and broke up in the early ’90s (though they’ve re-formed to record and tour a couple of times since then).
That’s not to say it’s a horrible album. Some of it actually holds up fairly well sixteen years on, even if flash-and-trash guitarist Warner Hodges’ sound is often smoothed into the all-too-familiar tones of the MTV/AOR metal of the day, and even though wild-eyed singer Jason Ringenberg sometimes comes off like the Little Rascals’ Alfalfa, earnestly trying to croon real pretty.
The problem was that Still Standing paled in comparison to the band’s live persona. The Scorchers’ rip-snortin’ jumble of C&W and punk — with Hodges whirling like a dervish and Ringenberg careening around the stage like Don Knotts on booze and pills, while drummer Perry Baggs and bassist Jeff Johnson banged out a furiously steady beat — was an impetus for that crazy term “cowpunk.”
The titles of the band’s two early EPs, Reckless Country Soul and Fervor, perfectly captured the ragged glory of what one critic (writing about the Scorchers’ now-classic cover of Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie”) described as “Ramones-meets-Southern-rock.” And the band’s best album, 1985′s Lost & Found, featured such jaggedly exhilarating songs as “White Lies” and “Broken Whiskey Glass”, plus a thoroughly convincing update of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway”.
Perhaps fittingly, the single best moment on Still Standing is a thrashing rendition of “19th Nervous Breakdown” — a logical choice given Hodges’ longstanding fixation with Stones guitar mannerisms and Ringenberg’s jittery stage presence. While cuts such as “Golden Ball And Chain” and “Shotgun Blues” veer toward Georgia Satellites-style rave-ups, a couple of slower songs, “Good Things Come To Those Who Wait” and “Ocean Of Doubt”, seem to point the way to Ringenberg’s ongoing solo career (see “Bible And A Gun 1863″ on this year’s well-crafted album of duets, All Over Creation.)
Fans who still remember that the band was first known as Jason & the Nashville Scorchers will be thrilled with the three bonus tracks on this reissue. “Greetings From Nashville” reprises a bit of the spirit of the old Scorchers, with Hodges grinding the strings to a scream while Ringenberg slyly toasts his adopted hometown as “the new L.A.” and evokes the raw power of rock ‘n’ roll. “Route 66″ may seem a tad redundant, but it too gets the Scorchers’ delirious treatment, pushing it several steps beyond Nat King Cole and the Stones. The final track, “The Last Ride”, is a terse take on spaghetti-western instrumental fare that’s pretty tough, yet somehow tender as it brings to mind those bygone days of cowpunk passion.