Personnel: C.J. Ramone (vocals); Dan Root, Steve Soto (vocals, guitar); David Hidalgo Jr. (drums); Pete Sosa (percussion).
Recording information: The Racket Room, Santa Ana, CA.
The sad truth is, not all Ramones are created equal. Everyone loved Joey the sweet, goofy misfit and Dee Dee the endearing screw-up, and they respected Johnny, the taskmaster who kept them in line and made the band into a well-oiled machine. But what about those who served in the later lineups of the band? C.J. Ramone played bass with the Ramones after Dee Dee left in 1989, and was with them until they played their last show in 1996, but even though he did his share to keep the band rolling in their final years, his name doesn't pop up often when folks celebrate the key members of the legendary punk trailblazers. But C.J. Ramone clearly learned a lot in his seven years with the Ramones, and his second solo album, 2014's Last Chance to Dance, demonstrates that he can write and play songs full of the Ramones' trademark virtues -- simple but ear-tickling hooks, speedy yet navigable tempos, straightforward storytelling, and a ready supply of energy that gives the songs force as well as a sense of fun. C.J. knows how to put together a Ramones tune, but even though Last Chance to Dance honors the sound and style of his old band, C.J. gives this music a bit of his own personality, and there's a greater pop lilt in numbers like "Understand Me" and the title cut than one might expect, while "Clusterfuck" is a dose of proto-hardcore that's harder and faster than what the Ramones delivered. And while it's true that Dee Dee and Johnny had a fondness for military themes, "Grunt," "Won't Stop Swinging," and "Mr. Kalashnikov" are the work of a guy who actually served in the Marines, and the songs have a personal tone and a dash of dark wit that's effective. And while galloping drums and heavy guitar downstrokes dominate these songs, C.J. is willing to fancy things up a bit with occasional guitar solos and some acoustic guitar overdubs for texture, and his band -- with Dan Root and Steve Soto of the Adolescents on guitars and David Hidalgo, Jr. from Social Distortion on drums -- is tight, energetic, and unfailingly rocking. Last Chance to Dance is a good, satisfying blast of meaty, straightforward punk rock, and C.J. Ramone does right by his surname on this album. He may not be your favorite Ramone, but he's made a better solo album than most of his former bandmates have delivered. ~ Mark Deming