Jason Ringenberg is back, following his 2017 album, Stand Tall, and in top form with a collection of romping rockers. Fueled by his prowling rhythm guitar and his shimmering lead runs, they careen around the corners of social issues, lost love, the wreckage of cities, and the ghosts of the past.
“Before Love and War” kicks off the album with a vibrato guitar chord that blooms into a galloping rhythm riding along minor chords that evoke the shards of a broken relationship. Kristi Rose’s harmony vocals spiral around Ringenberg’s lead vocals, capturing the interplay between yearning for what’s lost and relief that it’s over. Propulsive guitars drive the moving “The Freedom Rides Weren’t Free,” a tribute to the Freedom Riders of the 1960s and a reminder of how we seem to have forgotten them and their sacrifices in the civil rights movement — “echoes of those days we rarely hear.”
The poignant ballad “Nashville Without Rhinestones” wryly tells the tale of a changing Nashville that will soon be overrun with condominiums where “Cadillacs and Telecasters all with be forgotten / nobody will sing about hogs or pickin’ cotton.” With a nod to the incarnations of Nashville past, the singer prophetically looks out on the horizon and sees “a sinking ship / filled with hillbilly ghosts on their final trip.”
The country rambler “Stoned on Rhinestones” cannily tracks the rise and fall of a country singer, where the singer declares, “I’m gonna find a satisfied mind pickin’ / In a hillbilly band.” The urgent rocker “I Rode with Crazy Horse” tells the story of one of Crazy Horse’s cousins who rode and fought with him in every battle. Ringenberg affectingly covers the hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” The album closes with a ringing Byrds-like guitar on “Window Town,” a reflection on the ways we look at life, how we reveal ourselves to the world, and the ways we shut the world out, as well as the changes that occur right outside our windows.
Ringenberg shines on Rhinestoned with his canny songwriting, his propulsive and bright guitar work, and his raw vocals. He’s an expert at going straight to our hearts with a lyric wrapped in a tune so danceable that the words linger long after the song’s finished.