The melodramatic British music press coined the term "new sincerity" in the "80s to describe bands that mixed country and Western influences into their post-punk guitar rock.
That wave of acts - which included Rank and File, Green on Red, the Beat Farmers and the Long Ryders - crested with Jason and the Scorchers, whose 1983 debut EP Fervor is listed in both The Rolling Stone Guide to the 100 Greatest Rock "n" Roll Records and The County Music Association"s 100 Greatest Country Records. Scorchers frontman Jason Ringenberg, therefore, was a trailblazer for sounds now more commonly known as "alt-country," "No Depression" or "Americana." Commercial attention faded quickly for the Scorchers, though the band still works from time to time. In the "90s, Ringenberg - who will play three solo shows in Central Indiana this week - was forced to look outside the music field to feed his family. "For a guy like me, if music doesn"t work, I"m stuck working in the regular world," he says by phone from his home near Nashville. "After the Scorchers kind of dried up, I was basically doing carpentry work, construction work." But Ringenberg"s fortunes turned with the 2000 release of A Pocketful of Soul. The primarily acoustic album, crafted with friends as a personal project on his own label, won wide acclaim, being named in the Associated Press" Top 10 country albums for the year. The surprise success put Ringenberg back on the road for jaunts across the United States and several trips to Europe, with a program the Chicago Sun-Times called the best solo show of 2001. "There"s no predicting this business," the 43-year-old musician says. "You try, try and try to make something happen, and it won"t happen. And then you say the heck with it, have fun, do what"s in your heart, and it works." Now Ringenberg is back with a new album, All Over Creation, on which every cut is a joint effort with colleagues from the Nashville scene and elsewhere: Steve Earle, Todd Snider and BR549, to name a few. The title reflects the disc"s broad range of styles, from rockabilly and honkytonk to creepy gothic folk and upbeat anthemic rock. "It is all over creation," he says. "I threw cohesiveness out the window very early." The potentially difficult duets project came together fairly easily, thanks to Ringenberg"s two decades of hard knocks in the business. When he asked for help, the other acts came through, working either for free or "far below "industry standards,"" as he notes on the CD jacket. He was especially pleased that Steve Earle showed up to rework "Bible and a Gun," a Scorchers tune the two originally co-wrote in the "80s. "I couldn"t believe it when we got Steve, because he"s so busy," Ringenberg says. "I felt like all those years kind of paid off in a real personal way, because everyone just jumped at the chance to do it. I felt really cool about that." Ringenberg is just now starting what he expects to be a full year of touring the U.S. and Europe. The new album has won high marks from critics, especially in Britain. "I kind of had a feeling it would do well in England," he says. "A lot of those artists are much bigger in England than they are here." Sincerity is still a watchword for Ringenberg, who croons his decidedly non-ironic lyrics in an innocent Buddy Holly voice. The disc has its lighter material, such as the opening rave-up, "Honky Tonk Maniac From Mars," and a gender-reversed cover of Loretta Lynn"s "Don"t Come Home A Drinkin" (With Lovin" on Your Mind)." On the deeper side, however, the album resonates with historical themes and family issues. "Camille" is an ode to his young daughter, just as the last record featured a track about her sister. Heaviest of all is "Erin"s Seed," an inspired-by-a-true-story tale of Irish immigrants who fled famine in their home country only to find themselves on opposite sides of a Civil War battlefield. The lyrics were written with a historian friend. "We took a little bit of artistic license, but that essentially is the story," Ringenberg says. "They were hollering at each other back and forth, "Hey, how"s Margaret?" and things like that. Then they shot themselves to pieces. It"s an awful story." In light of his own history, Ringenberg seems especially suited to headline a series of showcase concerts promoting Roots Diner, Bloomington-based DJ and promoter Lisa Morrison"s weekly Americana radio show. Morrison, former host of the Over Easy singer-songwriter show on WTTS, has been staging shows around the area to promote her new syndicated show, which airs locally at 1 p.m. Sundays on WKLU-101.9 FM and is adding other stations around the state. Ringenberg will appear: ï Thursday, 8 p.m. at the Royal Theater, a classic movie house on the town square in Danville. The bill also includes Bloomington"s Tom Roznowski, Indy"s own Middletown and singer-songwriter Ray Reisinger. Admission is $8. ï Friday, 9 p.m. at the Pine Room Tavern on State Road 46 in Nashville. The opening act is Brown County roots duo Rick and Neil Cox. Admission is free. ï Saturday, 7 p.m. at Suite 7, a new listening room in the Murphy Arts Center on Virginia Avenue in Fountain Square. Guests are Roznowski and singer-songwriter Don Pedigo. Admission is $9.