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Jason Ringenberg – Empire Builders

Jason Ringenberg

There’s a line in The Thing Called Love (the Peter Bogdanovich film about country musicians) where Dermot Mulroney’s character says that he likes country music because it has no sarcasm. Lately, I can definitely relate to that statement.

I can also relate to Jason Ringenberg’s Empire Builders, a record inspired by the “alt-country” singer’s journey through Europe and his conflicting feelings about being American.

As far as I can tell, “alt-country” just means good country; music inspired by the Johnny Cash school singers who aren’t afraid to take on the issues and sing about something other than love and rodeos. Ringenberg plays with the country stereotype on this album, playing rollicking country tunes accompanied by his Midwestern accent that discuss distaste for the Confederate Flag and Wal-Mart. He cloaks criticism for consumer culture in the marching-band stomp of “New-Fashioned Imperialist” and the eerie spoken word of “American Reprieve,” but is most haunting when he takes on the persona of a black Tuskegee Airman, the Nez Perce Chief Joseph, or the orphan Eddie of “Eddie Rode The Orphan Train.” There are also a few personal songs, for his father and an unnamed woman, and a rockabilly tribute to guitarist Link Wray.

Ringenberg isn’t trendy or hip, and by the end of the album he’s realized that he’s not ashamed of being American. He’s provided thoughtful critique with the honesty only country music can offer, and though the America he portrays is bleak, he has pride in the people who’ve helped make it, and hope that it can get better.


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