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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Richie Ramone
"Entitled" (DC-JAM)
CJ Ramone
Last Chance To Dance" (Fat Wreck Chords)

DC Larson

I first glimpsed the Ramones in a b/w cheap paper Rock Scene magazine photo essay. 1975. It chronicled the filming (in what I later learned was Arturo Vega's loft) of their pre-Sire video audition tape. 

The music was jarringly monochromatic. So were they - stark in black leather before a draped bedsheet.  1-2-3-4, and the world was made a cool place for misfits, outsiders, and assorted irregular psyches. 

Drummer/singer Richie and bassist/singer CJ would pass through the punk juggernaut in its later years -- Richie replacing Marky for three albums (Marky returned), and CJ taking up the bass after Dee Dee's 1989 departure. 

The two never did appear together on a Ramones LP, but each added something distinctive to the group. 

And they offer distinctly individual solo works. Therin lies the key to appreciating these new CDs. Not comparing their Ramones-consistent traits to the originals (a competition no one could win), but rather listening for what might distinguish them from their august predecessors.

Richie's Entitled tends to be the angrier and more aggressive. Its militant guitars are set on 11, Surly riffs stalk amongst the chunky power chording fury, and a rhythm section probably wanted by authorities for disrupting global peace rages ever forward.

Ah, the songs. Direct progressions are layered with intriguing melodic additives, and invigorating instrumental ambition jumps up from the chaos, only to duck back into shadows to plot new attacks.

Atop the whole is Richie himself, his unique sneered vocals alive with attention-riveting attitude. Loud. Defiant. Detonative. A whipsmart presence in black leather. 

Back in the day, he penned several notable tracks for the Ramones proper. Three are reinterpreted here (closer to the author's own vision, one assumes).

Of these, "I Know Better Now" and "I'm Not Jesus" are in the familiar headlong-dive style. But they incorporate novel twists and 
newly minted textures. ("I Know Better Now" benefits from a gang-yelled "Nobody can tell me!")

As the youngest Ramone, CJ brought a freshness and energy to their presentation. Last Chance For a Dance is welcome for the same reason. Its athletic energies speed through cut after cut of ebullient flame. Arrangements, even those tending toward the elementary, surprise with unexpected curb jumps into head-spinning change territory. 

Keeping all percolating above the storm is an infectious optimism. Not as in happy-go-sappy, smiley faced obliviousness. But rather a lopsided grin-through-untoward experience that refuses to cede the battle.   

As demanded by CJ's top-drawer original material, the playing here is uniformly strident and declarative. It surges, true, but with winning amiability, The pounding comes with a hearty handshake.

Variety is served with the inclusion of pensive balladeering, For these, CJ's otherwise muscular singing settles back into an agreeable introspectiveness. 
My advice? Buy both.

Recommended Richie "Criminal," "Entitled," "Smash You," "I Know Better Now," "Into the Fire"

Recommended CJ "Understand Me," "Til the End," "Long Way To Go," "You Own Me," "Last Chance To Dance"
VIDEO "Entitled"
VIDEO "Last Chance To Dance"

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