Uncle Monk

Uncle Monk

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If, as high school guidance counselors and human resources directors like to say, the average person will have several different careers over the course of life, Tom Erdelyi is a good example. Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1952, he grew up in the Forest Hills section of the borough of Queens in New York City and became an engineer at the famed Record Plant recording studio. Then, he began managing a group of friends who became famed punk rock group the Ramones, later leaving his business duties to take up the drums and the pseudonym Tommy Ramone. After their albums Ramones, Ramones Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia, he withdrew to become the group's producer and reclaimed his real name. Now, he is the sole surviving founding member of the band, and one half of the new duo Uncle Monk, along with Claudia Tienan, a former member of the Simplistics. For this project, Erdelyi has hung up his leather jacket, let his now gray hair curl down his back, grown a beard, and adopted a cowboy hat. (He's still wearing jeans, though.) And instead of drumming, he is overdubbing mandolin, banjo, dobro, fiddle, and guitar on an album devoted to original compositions performed in a strictly bluegrass/traditional country style. There's nothing here for Ramones fans to grab onto, beyond the occasionally pugnacious lyrical sentiment. Erdelyi and Tienan are more impressive as instrumentalists than as vocalists, their arrangements harking back to many old-timey predecessors. Their singing harks back, too, to the semi-professional, untrained sound of country singers who only pursued music as a part-time occupation. If there is any consistency in Erdelyi's long career in various aspects of the music business, it may be that he prefers to take music to its most basic possible level and re-create it from the ground up. Uncle Monk is no Ramones, but it represents another simplified approach to a familiar musical style.

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