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Uncle Monk 

click to enlarge Airday Records, 2007
  • Airday Records, 2007
Three chords, no-frills recording, and a joyful disregard of the mainstream: punk rock or old-time string band music? Answer: both.

Uncle Monk is the eponymous release of Tommy Ramone’s most recent musical offering to the world, and although he initially made his mark as the first drummer—not to mention producer and manager—of seminal punk band the Ramones, there is nary a drum on this CD. Alongside longtime partner Claudia Tienan, Ramone has traded in glue for moonshine, the basement for the back porch, and jeans for…well, jeans.

In the ’70s, Ramone helped change the landscape of pop, but with Uncle Monk, the skilled multi-instrumentalist—he sings and expertly lays down fiddle, dobro, mandolin, banjo, and guitar—has sown his considerable energy into deeper musical strata. The resulting harvest of 14 originals references everything from the Carter Family to Hank Williams Sr., but on the way up from those deeply sunken roots there are audible traces of the Velvet Underground, acerbic folk, and the singer-songwriter confessional.

Tienan—who also holds down bass and rhythm guitar—possesses a dusky, Leonard Cohen-esque alto, which underpins the rollicking “Emotional Needs” with a wry sensibility and casts shadows on the ironically titled “Urban Renewal.” Ramone’s more elastic vocals whoop, growl, and sob as he cavorts in the leaves in “Heaven” and mourns convincingly for a broken friendship in “Mean to Me.”

Uncle Monk is a walk down a dusty two-lane blacktop with the lights of the big city glowing on the horizon—distant but still present.

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