Let’s just get this out of the way before we delve into it a little deeper- CJ Ramone’s The Holy Spell is a fantastic punk rock record. It channels the sound made famous by four guys from New York who loved their leather jackets and short songs and does so with great success. Owing perhaps, to the fact that the Ramones are timeless, it manages to come across as current too. What it isn’t, like much of millennial punk rock and pop punk; is tired, terribly depressed, or burdened by the woe-is-me sound of being an absolute bummer. Ok, that’s done, let’s go.
The Holy Spell, CJ’s follow-up to 2017’s American Beauty, is 12 songs of 60s beat influenced punk rock songs that swerve into surf rock, country, and blues. The songs punch with acerbic melody, accentuated by CJ’s easy-on-the-ears vocals and his penchant for writing inescapable hooks that’ll have you singing in no time. From the opening “One High One Low” to the terrific “This Town”, The Holy Spell would fit in very nicely to the Ramones catalog but does better as a continuation of what CJ has been doing as a solo artist; a natural progression from American Beauty. “This Town” is a track of particular note. Its simplicity and laser-like precision accomplish in its tight 2:24 runtime more than most punk rock bands are able to do in an entire album. It is impossible to like punk rock and not like this song.
Songs like “Hands of Mine” takes on a more country-tinged outlook; rustic, and a little more serene. “Stand Up” glosses in its more bubblegum doo-wop, side-by-side and hand-in-hand with the equally bouncy “Postcard from Heaven”.
Most importantly though, much of The Holy Spell deals with a lot of relatable topics like life, death, hope and getting on with things. Yet CJ does them all without the desperate, self-centered plight of the Instagram generation. Instead of trying to shape the world he lives in, CJ does what any good musician and songwriter does- cope, understand, thrive in it. The album closes with the terrific Americana-flavored, gospel-esque tribute to the departed Steve Soto of Agent Orange/Adolescents. It may start on a sad tone, but like much of the album takes life’s hardships with the “fuck it, let’s rock on” mantra that makes the song an enduring one. I can only hazard a guess, but I think Soto would have been proud of this song.
In “Blue Skies” CJ sings, amongst its slight melancholy, about “doing your best to do your best”. With its sweet hooks and melodies, the song encapsulates in the simplest way you can to “smile when you’re feeling good” because “when the wheel spins round / let the good times roll / they’ll be back like I told you they would”. Uncomplicated and assured, they are lessons for all to learn taught by minimalist rhythm guitars and a good beat.
There is much to appreciate in The Holy Spell. It is the kind of punk rock record that’s hard to put down and hard to dislike. But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that one of the best punk rock records of the year was written by someone named ‘Ramone’.