Rock writers have coined more than a few hybrids, including "cow-punk," trying to evoke the fire and fury of Jason and the Scorchers' Nashville-bred rock 'n' roll.
In two earlier EPs, this quartet blew past the uneasy musical compromises that have characterized country-rock fusions for the last 15 years. Now, their first album, "Lost and Found" (EMI 4XT-17153), triumphantly asserts the Scorchers' ability to revel in the darkest and most forlorn spirits of the country soul while rocking brutally enough to satisfy the most unrepentant head-bangers.
No sooner than the album's first cut, "Last Time Around," lead singer Jason Ringenberg is hopelessly mired in romantic failure. Crying out in the kind of mournful drawl you might expect from a hog farmer's son, Ringenberg draws a bleak portrait: "It's the last time around/ I'm the last survivor in your heart's ghost town." Meanwhile, behind Warren Hodges' heavy-metal guitar attack, the band steamrolls a song as if there were no point to musically consoling this loser.
Even more dramatic is Ringenberg's "Broken Whiskey Glass." The song opens slowly, explodes manically into full-bore rock 'n' roll and then pauses while Ringenberg solemnly intones his romantic epitaph: "Here lies Jason, strangled by love that wouldn't breathe." In this song, the Scorchers' angry snarl of nasty guitars and pummeling rhythms simply brings to the surface all those desperate emotions that are implicit in the suppressed delivery of every down-and-out country singer.
Given Hodges' evolution into a versatile guitar ace capable of mixing wiry rockabilly leads with punky buzz-saw rhythms and crashing metal chords, it is no surprise the Scorchers sound harder-edged than ever. Still, the band offers one soul-weary ballad, "Far Behind," and one folk tale of southern vengeance, "Still Tied," that would even go down well in Nashville. These two raw hillbilly pieces are nicely decorated with honky-tonk piano, fiddle, slide guitar and lap steel.
For all their feverish noisiness, the Scorchers also turn in a couple of rockers tuneful enough to earn radio play. "White Lies," with its dynamic exchange of power chords and catchy harmonies, suggests a countrified Who and again asserts Hodges' emergence as a one-man guitar army. Even sweeter is "Shop It Around," where Ringenberg's plaintive singing reeks of misery and gin.
While more and more American bands are turning to their musical roots, few have been able to pull off the Scorchers' trick of coming up with something fresh and contemporary. An exception is the Beat Farmers, whose debut album, "Tales of the New West" (Rhino RNLP 853), offers the kind of vibrant synthesis the Blasters aptly titled "American music." Hillbilly, western, rockabilly, rhythm and blues, folk-rock and punk get churned up here in a delightful mix of originals and covers that embraces everything from Tex Ritter to the Velvet Underground.
Part of the Beat Farmers' appeal is a self-deprecating comic sensibility that surfaces especially in a couple of absurdist western tales, "California Kid" and "Happy Boy," both delivered in Dick Montana's cavernous basso profundo. In a cracking piece of infectious rockabilly, "Lost Weekend," Buddy Blue crawls out of a morning-after alcoholic fog to query: "I wish someone would tell me just who and what I did/Why is this ring on my finger and who is that screaming kid?" Yet all their good-natured fun can't disguise the passion and more serious themes the band injects into its music.
Although this San Diego-area quartet can wander from folk-rock to tough boogie, jug-band blues and garage rock, they achieve that consistency of sound that comes only through the absorption of one's inspirations and traditions. That's why their covers of the Velvet Underground, Lovin' Spoonful and Bruce Springsteen end up sounding like Beat Farmer originals.
The Beat Farmers' debut is auspicious enough to place them in the company of John Fogerty, the Blasters and Los Lobos, all artists finding new shapes and meanings for good old rock 'n' roll.