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The Return of Joey Ramone
… Ya Know? (BMG)
In the couple of years following Joey Ramone's death 11 years ago, I had heard there were unreleased demo tracks that may someday be unearthed. Given the passing of time since then, I had given up on ever hearing them, and assumed they simply weren't worth digging up.
Guess I was wrong – spearheaded by Ramone's brother Mickey Leigh, an album of 15 tracks, culled from demos recorded over the last 15 years of Joey's life, has been released by BMG. And it's better than I would have ever guessed it could be.
Rolling Stone magazine noted that … Ya Know? Is "very cohesive, thanks to the rocker's distinct vision as a songwriter."
Can't disagree. The opening track, "Rock 'n' Roll is the Answer" is a rock anthem that AC/DC would have been proud to record. "Going Nowhere Fast" then blasts out of the speakers like a lost Ramones track, and it becomes evident this is not just a cobbled-together cash-grab.
Thanks to help by Joey fans/friends such as Joan Jett (who lends some backing vocals on "21st Century Girl"), Little Steven van Zandt, Bun E. Carlos and others, the whole album sounds fresh and new. It's almost as though Joey is actually back with us.
Some of the songs, however, reveal why they probably didn't get past the demo stage; "New York City" is catchy and honest, but the lyric is a tad trite, and "Seven Days of Gloom" isn't on par with most of this material.
But there are surprises like "Waiting For That Railroad" that, quite honestly, will give any Ramones fan shivers. Joey's pleading vocal delivery on this mostly-acoustic track is absolutely heartbreaking, and the lyric sounds like it came from someone who has reached the end of a journey.
"I Couldn't Sleep" is kind of a lost 1950s rocker, and "What Did I Do to Deserve You" borrows a riff from the Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care" (somehow, it works). And interestingly, there is an alternate take on "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" that somehow takes the song in a different direction than the previous TWO versions and builds into a copious blend of sound that would probably even get the Phil Spector seal of approval.
One of the buried highlights here is the charming "You Make Me Tremble," which you simply have to hear to appreciate. The song was left as a stripped-down pop tunes, and that's exactly how it should have been treated. … Ya Know? culminates with a beautiful, acoustic version of "Life's a Gas," a track from the Ramones' final album.
Kudos and more kudos to Leigh and everyone who helped make … Ya Know? happen. It's a long-awaited treasure for Ramones fans everywhere.
Find out more at joeyramone.com.