Rock in a Hard Place

Deep inside the local scene

“I wanna be your Joey Ramone,” the Donnas used to sing–and no doubt still do–but it looks like no one’s going to be Joey Ramone anymore now that the Ramones frontman passed from this earth last Sunday at the age of 49. It’s impossible to imagine what the Donnas, the Groovie Ghoulies, and the rest of the Lookout! Records catalogue would have sounded like had the Ramones never rocked “Rockaway Beach.” Like polka king Frank Yankovic, maybe.

Nothing like Ann Beretta, that’s for sure. The Richmond, VA punk band has a ton of other influences (there’s something jarring about reading a press release that says the band is “influenced by such classic punk bands as the Clash, Green Day, and Rancid“), but you still hear some of those third-hand girl-group hooks cutting through the choppy guitar on “Straight Shooter,” the opening track of Ann Beretta’s new CD New Union…Old Glory, released on Lookout! last week. There aren’t many surprises on the record, just boisterous, anthemic classic punk with hoarse vocals, buzzing power chords, surfin’ drums, and feel-good rabble-rousing revolution. (Well, “Latchkey World” sounds a little like Springsteen, which is just confusing.) When they sing in “Nowhere Generation” that the lads “marching to the beat of our own brigade” are “never gonna fade away,” it makes you want to party like it’s 1979.

One of the great things about the rough-hewn pep the Ramones pioneered is that pretty much anything can be adapted to it, as local novelty act Me First and the Gimme Gimmes never tires of demonstrating. It’s a side project, of course–these five fellas are actually in Lagwagon, NOFX, Swingin’ Utters, and Foo Fighters when they’re not rocking punked-out oldies–but one that’s developed enough of a listenership that its version of “Over the Rainbow” was actually used as incidental music for the last Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve (at least I hope it was the last). Blow in the Wind, the Gimme Gimmes’ latest on bassist Fat Mike‘s Fat Wreck Chords, tackles ’60s hits from Barry Mann‘s “Who Put the Bomp” to Tammy Wynette‘s “Stand by Your Man,” just as 1997’s Have a Ball mocked ’70s songs and Are a Drag mauled show tunes. It’s all great fun, and they do it awfully well, but it has as much musical relevance as Big Daddy‘s novelty ’50s-style covers of ’80s hits.

It should surprise no one that the Beach Boys‘ “Sloop John B” makes a perfect pop-punk single, and the Bob Dylan sorta-title track is given a properly propulsive treatment that any Blink-182-loving rugrat would appreciate. Their cover of Cat Stevens‘ “Wild World” doesn’t quite make up for Mr. Big‘s version in the mid ’90s, and Del Shannon‘s “Runaway” has no reason to exist outside of the organ solo only passably mimicked on guitar here. But any album that ends with a shout out to the Monkees deserves a little gabba gabba hey.

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