Jason Ringenberg

All Over Creation (Yep Roc Records)

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When Jason Ringenberg walked onto the stage at Fourth and Pine with the Nashville Scorchers, the two dozen scenemakers masquerading as a crowd never thought for one minute they'd be thinking about this guy twenty-one years later. This was a novelty act, a joke -- and not a particularly good one -- consisting of Hank Williams-style honky tonk played with a frenetic, sloppy punk-rock approach. But the band plugged away and refined its musicianship and is now widely recognized as one of the originators of alternative country, that slippery descriptor applied to all artists who could appear in the magazine No Depression. Jason and the Nashville Scorchers' first album, Fervor, proved Ringenberg could mine country tropes and rock & roll energy for some pretty solid songs of his own. It also contained the band's phenomenal cover of Bob Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie," which became the model for Zimmy's subsequent live performances of the song.

Unfortunately, for all Ringenberg's status as alt-country godfather, the music he recorded between 1984 and this year has rarely matched the achievement of that first album. A few years back, the Scorchers broke up and Ringenberg moved into a more straightforward country direction. Now he's finally put out a record that sounds like a solid follow-up to Fervor.

Ringenberg's instincts have always led him to seek out collaborators. His cohorts in the Scorchers, however, started chasing a different muse long before he was ready to acknowledge the loss of compatibility. Now, for his third solo release, he revisits the joy of working with others by inviting a series of guest artists, from Steve Earle to Todd Snider to Lambchop.

Considering the variety of approaches to songwriting and musicianship employed, All Over Creation is a remarkably consistent album. Oh, there are highlights -- the buoyant "James Dean's Car," co-written by Snider, and the deliciously tender sweetness of "Camille," an ode to his young daughter -- but no wrong turns interrupt the flow of delights. Ringenberg sounds as if he's having a blast, and his cohorts catch hold of his enthusiasm. Overall, it's a funny, sad, lighthearted, somber trip through the mixed emotions of a music-biz veteran who's learned the value of hanging out with talented friends.

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