Friday, August 25, 2023
The View On Pop Culture: Todd Snider, Tommy Womack, Jason Ringenberg (2002)
When people think of the city of Nashville, their thoughts often turn to the Grand Ole Opry, Johnny Cash, or maybe even Garth Brooks. The shadow of the country music industry casts its net over everything in the city, from art to commerce. Few people outside of the southeast know that Nashville is the “Music City” in more ways than just Shania Twain and Alan Jackson. The city also has a thriving gospel music industry and a rap music community to rival such “Dirty South” hotspots as Atlanta and New Orleans.
Nashville has long been home to critically acclaimed rockers like Jason & the Scorchers, Webb Wilder, Bill Lloyd and Threk Michaels and is also the center of a growing “space music” community driven by artists like Aashid Himons, Tony Gerber, and Giles Reaves. No matter what style of music you enjoy, from dancefloor rhythms to heavy metal, from punk to folk to roots rock, the Music City has something for you. As a number of fine albums have recently been released by some of Nashville’s brightest talents, your humble columnist is overjoyed to offer readers the following “summer required listening list.” Pay attention…there will be a pop quiz in September.
A Nashvillian by way of Seattle, Austin and Memphis, singer/songwriter Todd Snider has so much talent and charisma that just his presence in the city makes every other artist work that much harder. After an artistically fruitful trip through the major label minefield that brought Snider some fame and little fortune, he has landed on John Prine’s Nashville label. As shown by New Connection (Oh Boy Records), it’s a good fit for both Snider and the label. A quirky songwriter with an eye for life’s absurdities and an imagination as long as his arm (much like Prine), Snider cranks out verbose story-songs that show a considerable amount of humor and intelligence. Whether Snider is bragging about his record collection on “Vinyl Records,” having a little fun on a “Beer Run” or playing the starving artist on “Broke,” Snider imbues his songs with life and energy, mixing folk and blues and rock-roots with just a little country twang. Regardless of whether he’s making you laugh, or making you cry with his songs, Todd Snider never fails to wring an emotional response out of his audience. For an artist, there is no greater praise...
Tommy Womack was a member of southeastern cult bands Govt. Cheese and the Bis-Quits and is the writer of The Cheese Chronicles, the best book about being on the road with a rock band that you’ll ever read. A pair of excellent solo albums has established Womack as an individual talent on the rise. His third album, Circus Town (Sideburn Records) cements Womack’s reputation as one of the most insightful and entertaining rockers on the independent scene today. Much like Snider, Womack brings a lot of his own personality to his songs, sometimes funny/sometimes serious tunes that reveal and cherish the foibles of the human condition. “The Replacements” is a fond remembrance of and homage to one of the greatest (and sometimes the worst) live rock bands in history while “The Highway’s Coming” is a circular tale of sin and redemption. Songs like “You Can’t Get There From Here” or “Circus Town” have more in common lyrically with the Ramones than with Hank Williams, Womack adding elements of talking blues and traditional country to his punkish roots-rock blend. Unlike a lot of pop songwriters who write down to their audience, Tommy Womack demands that you join him on his level. Considering the lofty creative standard set by Circus Town, Womack has a lot to live up to next time around.
Jason Ringenberg is one of the influential graybeards of the Nashville rock scene. Country punk pioneers Jason & the Scorchers have been tearing up stages across the country and overseas for two decades now, helped give birth to the “alternative country” genre and spawned dozens of bands like Wilco and Whiskeytown. Ringenberg leans more towards the country side of the musical equation with his solo albums and All Over Creation (Yep Roc Records) may be his most inspired work yet. A collection of duets between Ringenberg, friends and followers, All Over Creation offers up a delightful mix of country classics and original material.
Jason revisits a Scorcher favorite with “Bible and A Gun,” turning it into a somber Civil War morality play in his duet with Steve Earle, and follows “James Dean’s Car” over the cliff with collaborator Todd Snider. With one foot in the honky tonk, Jason and BR5-49 provide Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” with a lively reading while the critically acclaimed Lambchop back Ringenberg on a haunting tale of Irish immigrants, “Erin’s Seed.” Tommy Womack, Kristi Rose and Paul Burch are among the other artists adding their talents to All Over Creation, Ringenberg delivering an album that has more reckless country soul than anything that Nashville’s Music Row will release this year. (View From The Hill, July 2002)