Uncle Monk
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Uncle Monk


Band Country Bluegrass


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"Different Drummers"

The last surviving original Ramone beats on a bluegrass mandolin

Tommy Ramone is playing in an acoustic bluegrass duo. Once more, for good measure: Tommy Ramone. A bluegrass duo. Not a bluegrass'n'roll group. Not some heavy-strumming, speed-freak take on bluegrass, and not a tongue-in-cheek novelty project by a bored rocker.

Uncle Monk's debut album is spirited but not frantic, and not particularly loud. The songs are devoid of percussion, and sung with simplicity and warmth. There's clearly more to Tommy Ramone than his mid-'70s three-year, three-album stint as the first drummer of the Ramones.

In fact, his interest in country and folk music is long-running, and has run parallel to his involvement in rock. "I have always loved this music, ever since I was a child," says Ramone in a recent phone interview. (Yes, he's using his old assumed name here, not his proper last name of Erdelyi, to which he reverted when he officially left the Ramones to become a record producerbecause of "name recognition," he says, and because it "might be better suited than a Hungarian name for bluegrass.")

"Throughout my career," he says, "I've thought about combining these elements"by which he means rock'n' roll and old-timey stuff. Which is, as far as he's concerned, what Uncle Monk does. Sure, the CD, played and sung entirely by Ramone and Claudia Tienan (who played bass both in the '80s-era New York underground rock band the Simplistics and with Ramone in an early-'90s melodic rock band also called Uncle Monk), may not sound particularly rocking, but it's actually the culmination of a slow scaling-down of Ramone's original vision of a rock and bluegrass hybrid.
"At first what I was doing was thinking of using an electric band," he explains. "Around the turn of the milennium we started playing. It was a slow process; we were enjoying ourselves. Over the course of that I discovered the way to do it was acoustic. I was using the drums at first, when we were doing the [electric] thingI love drums, but I thought it sounded better without."

The rock element in Uncle Monk's resulting album is, then, a phantom sound, abstracted after being removed, step by step, from the original concept. But it's still there the sensibility of the songwriting, and the melodies and progressions, owe more to the rock era than to the American folk tradition. "What we're doing is not really bluegrass," Ramone says. "We're taking the instrumentation and some of the musical vocabulary and combining it with our own experiences."

Hearing that, many will think of the most famous part of Ramone's experiences, those few years when he helped assert that a great rock'n'roll song needed only a few chords, a few simple lyrics and a steady, pounding beat. The Ramones were economical with sound, and it may come as no surprise that while Uncle Monk espouses a dramatically different style, it embraces the same economy. What's left is more room to appreciate the push and pull between Ramone's clear, trebly, plaintive, hopeful lyrics and Tienan's hushed, rugged coo. "People have been startled by the simplicity," Ramone sayseven though it's likely that fewer people are startled by the simplicity than by the fact that he's playing a mandolin."I just find beauty in things done very simply with very little embroidery. It's one of my aesthetics."

Ramone and Tienan have continued to strip away sonic layers. On the record, she plays guitar and bass; he plays guitar, mandolin, fiddle, dobro and banjo. For their upcoming tour, they're leaving most of those instruments at home. "What we've done is, we've combined all the stuff to two instruments," Ramone says. "Originally I was gonna switch from mandolin to banjo. It was kinda clumsy for us at first, [so] we're keeping it just mandolin and guitar. It's fantasticwhen you transpose from banjo to mandolin, it creates a whole new thing that sounds original and unique. It just got better for some reason."

Ramone says the live re-arrangements of these songs have suggested a new, simpler direction he and guitarist Tienan might take with their next recordbut for the time being, they've hardly even played out yet. Their first public show was at a South by Southwest showcase. On Saturday, for the first show of their tour and their second show overall, they'll be turning Cafe Nine into CBGB, in a sensespecifically, the sense in which CBGB stands for "country, bluegrass and blues." Way to come full circle, Tommy.

Different Drummers

—Brian LaRue

- New Haven Advocate

"Play Away All Day"

… the album like a pineapple doleful, which is sweet. Like a lightened lambkin wether (what the h?) it’s no-drums doldrums (“Mean To Me”) or cardiothermal (“Heaven”), the beauty in this beast is that it is gentle, Ben. Claire loves like bunkerless smokeaters her rooty-toot moods, but she is in a moody-mood, and is going to let Uncle Monk play away all day.

– Claire O.

MAY- JUNE 2007

Hit List

Uncle Monk Uncle Monk – Airday Records

"Surprisingly Faithful To The Timeworn Traditions"

Uncle Monk mines the thin golden vein connecting punk and bluegrass by stubbornly avoiding a mixture of the two. In fact, given the rough-and-tumble roots of one half of the duo (Tommy Ramone), they are surprisingly faithful to the timeworn traditions and structures of the latter. Their self-titled debut distinguishes itself on the merit of its unconventional subject matter and the deadpan delivery of guitarist/singer Claudia Tienan. “Emotional Needs,” “Home Sweet Reality” and “Bright Fluorescent” all present a wry and entirely modern take on the eternal quest for leaving one’s troubles behind. “Need a life, need a life,” Tienan quietly mutters, “wish to hell I had one.”

- American Songwriter

"A Sweet Refreshing Album"

It’s always fun when a noted musician makes an unexpected turn and you can’t get any more unexpected than Uncle Monk. In fact, the grizzled, gray-haired gent pictured on the cover of this bluegrass CD is none other than Tommy Ramone…formerly drummer for that institution of New York punk, the Ramones. Punk to bluegrass? For Tommy Erdelyi, the answer is most definitely yes.

Uncle Monk is a surprisingly straight folk record – blissfully, there aren’t any post-modern wink-and-nudge attempts to play acoustic punk rock. Instead, this is real “old-timey” bluegrass, just plaintive songs straight from the heart. Playing mandolin, dobro, fiddle and acoustic guitar, Ramone/Erdelyi is accompanied by his able partner, singer/guitarist Claudia Tienan. Together, the duo gently meander through 14 songs, from the sunny “Happy Tune” to the wry “Mr. Endicott,” the latter a wry ballad about the big, bad boss we’ve all had.

All told, Uncle Monk is a sweet, refreshing album of old-school bluegrass. If you enjoy music of the early ‘60s folk boom, grab this little gem of a platter. – PP

Hit List

Uncle Monk Uncle Monk – Airday Records - Vintage Guitar Magazine

"Uncle Monk"

Although famed as the founding drummer of The Ramones, multi-talented Tommy Ramone (Erdelyi) played guitars back in the '60s and has served as a producer on some remarkable albums, including The Replacements' Tim. His latest venture branches even further from the overdriven sound of his namesake band. An obvious labor of love, Uncle Monk is a bluegrass album he recorded as a duo with Claudia Tienan (ex-Simplistics).

From the jovial opener "Round the Bend" to the disc-closing "Wishing at the Moon," most of these 14 tunes consist of gently loping Appalachian-style music, propelled by Tienan's mid-tempo acoustic guitar and accented by Erdelyi's chirping banjo. Although Tienan takes the lead vocal on the Marianne Faithfull-ish "Emotional Needs," the CD is dominated by Erdelyi's own wizened, elfin pipes, which joyously intone lines such as, "Brand new day's rising/ Trouble's on the run," in the accurately titled "Happy Tune."

Standout tracks include "Airday," an easygoing instrumental to which Erdelyi adds mandolin and fiddle, but the jewel in the crown is "Mr. Endicott," an understated tale of an employee's quiet revenge on his tyrannical boss. Back in the '70s, as a Ramone, Erdelyi had confected brilliant pop/punk songs about the smallest of things, from the "Hey! Ho!" exuberance of heading for a concert to a boy's simple desire to become a boy friend. That same the-devil's-in-the-details sensibility lives on in the minutiae of his vengeance against the despised Endicott: "I'm talkin' on the phone with my friends/ My lunch break, it never ends/ I'm takin' all the pencils and pens."

Stomp and Stammer

Review by Gregory Nicoll
- Stomp and Stammer

"Uncle Monk’s Tommy Ramone not sedated by bluegrass"

On the surface, New York’s Uncle Monk is much like any other modern bluegrass duo. The female singer is a deep-voiced honky-tonk angel. And the bearded, mandolin-toting male singer is . . . Tommy Ramone?

Sure enough, the drummer, producer and sole survivor of the original Ramones is making his comeback in an unlikely setting. Uncle Monk’s show at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge on Saturday (on a bill with local mandolinist Jimmy Ryan’s band Hellride) will be notably quieter than the last show Tommy played in town, with the Ramones in 1978.

Reached by phone last week, he said the leap from punk rock to bluegrass isn’t that big. “There’s a certain coolness in both kinds of music,” he said. “They’re both the kind of stuff where you can pick up an instrument and just start playing, create the music pretty simply. I always liked bluegrass when I heard it, and over the years I got the chance to listen to more and more of it.”

He and partner Claudia Tienan first worked together in a late-’80s band, also called Uncle Monk. “That was pretty much a melodic rock band, but the more we started to like acoustic music, we just started eliminating one electric instrument after another. It’s modern alternative music with bluegrass instruments. People may see us and do a double take. But even though this music has rural roots, it’s underground music just like punk is.”

Tommy was still producing the Ramones when they cut a couple of country songs on their fourth album, “Road to Ruin.” But don’t expect to hear any bluegrass versions of Ramones songs in Uncle Monk’s set. And Tommy won’t be manning the drums - he hasn’t played them in years. “I never really thought of myself as a drummer,” he explained. “I played for the Ramones because I was their manager, but that was the only time I ever played them.”

Uncle Monk’s Tommy Ramone not sedated by bluegrass

By Brett Milano

- The Boston Herald

"There Is Life After The Ramones"

There is life after the Ramones, but who knew that its sound would be bluegrass? Tom Erdelyi, better known as Tommy Ramone, the band's first drummer (and only surviving original member), plays a mean mandolin in this new acoustic duo, singing tautly written songs much like Ramones songs, but with tenderness about the comforts and subtle politics of home life.

By Ben Sisario

- The New York Times

"This Stuff Is Real"

If we tell you that Uncle Monk is a bluegrass duo with Tommy Ramone in it, you’re bound to think of something like punkgrass or bluepunk or 1, 2, 3, grass! But Ramone (ne Erdelyi) and Claudia Tienan serve it up pretty straight—and solid. There’s no doubting that Ramone’s protean experience informs Uncle Monk, but he’s no dilettante—This stuff is real.

By Mike Wolf - Time Out New York

"There Is Plenty Here"

There is plenty here for anyone daring to explore the fringes of acoustic music.

—Bluegrass Unlimited - Bluegrass Unlimited

"Serves up 14 originals"

Serves up 14 originals that wouldn't sound out of place in the Bascom Lamar Lunsford catalogue.

— MOJO **** - MOJO


Uncle Monk -- Airday Records




Uncle Monk is an indie acoustic duo featuring Tommy Ramone on vocals, mandolin, guitar, banjo and dobro, and Claudia Tienan on vocals, guitar and bass.

Uncle Monk’s music is rooted in old-time and bluegrass influences. To this mix they have added unique musical textures to create a sound with a new sensibility. “We are working with what feels natural to us,” says Ramone. “We are making use of string-band instrumentation along with alternative rock flavorings. We use mandolins and other stringed instruments to add texture and dimension to the overall sound. We have been drawn towards the classic simplicity of string band music, but at the same time we are deeply involved with the aesthetics of alternative music, and we do our best to use our musical influences to create an original style. There is a similarity between punk & old time music, both are home brewed as opposed to schooled, both have earthy energy, and there is a certain cool in old time music that is found in the best alternative acts.”

The songs of Uncle Monk deal with many aspects of modern existence, joys, sorrows, loves, fears, longings, desolation, revelation and exhilaration. The themes are about small town life, coming to the big city, urban gentrification, interpersonal relationships, spiritual longings, melancholy, and emotional needs.

Tommy Ramone began his musical career as Tom Erdelyi an engineer at the Record Plant recording studios. In the musical doldrums of the 70’s he, along with the great Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee, formed the rock group Ramones and participated in the birth of New Wave, Punk Rock, and Alternative music. As manager, producer and drummer for the band, Tommy Ramone helped create the sound, style and ideology for what was to become modern rock. As an independent record producer Ramone has worked on recordings that include the single, Love Goes to A Building On Fire by Talking Heads, and the albums, Neurotica by Redd Kross, Too Tough To Die by the Ramones, and Tim by The Replacements, the later voted one of the best albums of the year by the writers of Rolling Stone, Record, The Village Voice, and The LA Times.

Claudia Tienan, Originally form Minnesota and formerly with the group The Simplistics, is a partner with Tommy Ramone in Uncle Monk. Her penetrating lyrics and haunting vocals add facets and dimension to the songs. The music of the two artists complement each other. There is a Yin and Yang sensibility at work, a touch of light and dark, of bitter and sweet.

Uncle Monk presents the realization of thoughtful and measured crafting of lyrics and melodies, and is dedicated to music that inspires the heart and tingles the spine.