Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CJ Ramone- Last Chance To Dance

2014 has been tough for Ramones fans. Ever since Tommy's passing last July, my heart has been left with a little part of the initial sadness I experienced on the day he left that is hard to console. A world where the original four Ramones are missing seems to sparkle a lot less and it's hard to keep my hopes up that their message will stay alive as it always should. Granted there have been many reasons to smile still and many glimmers of promise for it to continue in this year but I think there couldn't have been better timing to see a surviving part of that legacy step forward with a new release. I'm talking about our CJ of course. For me and many others, he is the one out of the few Ramones still standing within the earthly realm who's always striving to keep that memory and message of his brothers alive with the utmost honor. We needed him and he's here with his latest effort entitled, "Last Chance To Dance". This record captured my heart in an instant so without further delay, it's time to activate my super Riff Randell mode and tell you about it!

The songs were recorded and mixed by Jim Monroe during the early Spring of this year at The Racket Room in Santa Ana, CA with Jiro Okabe acting as executive producer. Further production assistance came from Jim Monroe, Steve Soto, and CJ Ramone. Additional engineering was done by Sergio Chavez and the process was completed by Paul Miner who handled mastering. This studio and accompanying team of people created a fantastic end result with the sound. The band comes through beautifully and crystal clear. If the cover photo by the legendary Allan Tannenbaum seems to take you back in time, there's good reason! It was shot during the late summer of 1974 in Times Square, capturing a pretty woman of the night standing in front of a run down bar. I love this choice because along with the lettering of CJ's name up at the top, it really pays tribute to the imagery of first Ramones record cover while maintaining it's own unique identity. His work is candid and magnificent! The back cover photo by Carla Meurer is a great live shot from below, displaying his powerful onstage stance. Additional photography was done by Paul Mackay and the layout credits go to Sasha Loobkoff. Official release date happened on November 25th,2014 by Fat Wreck Chords and is available in the following formats of: digital only, CD, and LP which can all be obtained through their webstore. Digital only can also be found on iTunes but enough of that, let's talk about the vinyl!! You can choose from black or my personal recommendation of color. It is a GORGEOUS white with black and grey splatter that coordinates perfectly with the cover. I got mine last Saturday from the postman and have since failed to stop admiring it on a daily basis.

When I interviewed CJ during June of last year, he had let us know that about half of this new record written. That was excellent cause for both joy and anticipation! I adored Reconquista very much, especially that utter gem of a song "Three Angels" and wondered to myself while waiting, "How will he follow that record and will it be just as impactful?". That answer is a resounding YES as soon as the needle drops and you hear "Understand Me?", the first track that got it's own single 7" last October. A bounding rhythm, two simple verses, and magnificent hook that takes you into the chorus is all this man needs to win you over, joined by a more than skilled band featuring members of The Adolescents and Social Distortion. That's what punk rock is all about and the veteran does it with absolute ease. Another of CJ's many attributes that keeps him just as valid in present day is the sheer beauty he maintains in his vocal tone. Listening in this moment, I can close my eyes and hear the kid just out of the the Marines who was, and still is a natural. Speaking of his military past, that leads us into "Won't Stop Swinging" featuring Steve Soto as co-writer giving a look at the period of his life where the choice was to enlist or stay home with few means to survive. Even without that kind of history in my own background, I found myself really connecting to this song because the root of it is struggle and a very inspiring display of self determination. Kick ass solo in it too and a video was just released for the song yesterday! Check it out here. It's without a doubt my #1 pick for overall favorite track. That heavy rock 'n' roll gets even heavier in "Mr. Kalashnikov" which is a tribute to Mikhail Kalashnikov, maker of the AK-47. The lyrics are tough, the guitars are tougher, and it's catchy as hell. Make no mistake of thinking that toughness is all there is to this collection of songs though! There are some beautiful love songs to balance out the edginess which you will hear in "One More Chance", "You Own Me", and my personal favorite of those, "'til the End". It has such a perfect arrangement and pop sensibility that I can almost hear his brother Joey singing along every time it plays. I adore that song. The sailor's tale, "Carry Me Away" is a little realm of it's own and adds in another layer of depth with it's old world feel. Very cool. There is also one cover appearing this time and that is Alice Cooper's "Long Way To Go". This rendition is injected with a heavy dose of punk rock but loses none of the original's reverence with the addition of The Adolescents' front man, Tony Cadena who teams up with CJ for some guest vocals. They play off of each other well and it's a success! "Last Chance To Dance" is everything a title track should be and that is a standout! It was another favorite of mine with such a pretty verses, a magnetic chorus, and great backing vocals. This very well could have been the closer and I would've been okay with that BUT... CJ  decided to flip the script in true rebel fashion and bring out the punch in the face that is "Clusterfuck"! At one minute exactly, this tune co-written with Dan Root is a burst of total fury and gave me a big smile because with as soft as people can be in music these days, we need someone to raise a middle finger every now and then. Who better to do it than a Ramone? No one, that's who.

In closing I could say so many more things but I don't need to because "Last Chance To Dance" speaks for itself. All you gotta do is listen. CJ and the guys have plans to hit the road with a vengeance in this quickly approaching new year so stay tuned to his facebook page for all upcoming details and hopefully we'll all get the chance to see him. Ramones Forever.

The Band...
Steve Soto- Guitar and Vocals
Dan Root- Guitar and Vocals
David Hidalgo Jr- Drums
Cj Ramone- Bass and Vocals

With guest appearance by Tony Cadena doing vocals on "Long Way To Go", additional percussion by Pete Sosa, and baritone guitar on "Won't Stop Swingin" by Martin Beal.

All songs written by CJ Ramone except: "Won't Stop Swinging" written by Ramone/Soto, "Clusterfuck" written by Ramone/Root, and "Long Way To Go" written by Michael Bruce.

1. Understand Me?
2. Won't Stop Swinging 
3. One More Chance
4. Carry Me Away
5. 'til the End
6. Long Way To Go
7. Mr. Kalashnikov
8. Pitstop
9. Grunt
10. You Own Me
11. Last Chance To Dance
12. Clusterfuck