Joey Ramone’s Last Testament

The other night, my band played “I Wanna Be Sedated” while two preteen boys jumped around onstage in front of us, shouting the tune’s words with contagious glee. “Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go / I wanna be sedated / Nothing to do, nowhere to go, oh,” they sang as they bopped, “I wanna be sedated.”

The Brothers Ramone gave the world a million of these precious moments. If Kiss are the Yankees of rock ‘n’ roll, then the Ramones were the Mets–perpetual underdogs who got by on spirit and pluck.

The late Joey Ramone, né Jeffrey Hyman, while not in my view the crucial Ramone, was certainly the most lovable one, and his support for musicians in the New York area was ceaseless. All of this, as well as the fact that he knew he was dying from lymphoma during the production of Don’t Worry About Me (Sanctuary), renders his first–and last–solo album awfully poignant.

Don’t Worry showcases the Joey we knew for 25 years, cutting up and waxing euphoric about pop-culture ephemera. On “Maria Bartiromo,” his well-publicized tune about CNBC’s financial-news babe, Mr. Ramone chants the on-air reporter’s name like a mantra, then asks the object of his affection: “What’s happening with Intel / What’s happening with Amazon?” Renditions of the Stooges’ “1969” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” speed along by dint of his unfailing good nature. That Mr. Ramone knew his time on earth was coming to an end imbues the Armstrong tune with bittersweet resonance.

Mr. Ramone deals even more directly with his illness on “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up).” “Sitting in a hospital bed / Frustration going through my head / Turn off the TV set / Take some drugs so I can forget,” he drawls in his froggy baritone. It’s a sad, ironic twist on the aforementioned verse from “I Wanna Be Sedated,” and it’s heartbreaking. This is not the Joey Ramone that New York knew.

For those who choose to ignore the fact that Mr. Ramone was coming to terms with his mortality in song, Don’t Worry About Me is a lightweight, fun little punk-pop record, made with bassist Andy Shernoff (of the Dictators) and drummer Frank Funaro (once with the Dictators, now with Cracker), longtime producer Daniel Rey and Mr. Ramone’s brother, Mickey Leigh. Don’t Worry About Me could have sounded crisper. There’s too much reverb on the drums, for one thing–but to complain just seems churlish.

The night after I played “I Wanna Be Sedated,” I met Mr. Ramone’s mother, Charlotte Lesher, at the release party for Don’t Worry About Me . One never knows what to say to someone who outlives their own child, so I said something innocuous and dumb. What I wished I’d said was that her son, as evidenced by this record and about 15 others, was a mensch.

Kasey Chambers: Good on Her If you caught the Golden Globes a few weeks ago, you noticed that Hollywood is ga-ga for Australians. Nicole Kidman, Baz Luhrmann and Russell Crowe–a New Zealander by birth–are the favored variety of foreigner in the film biz these days.

In that spirit, Kasey Chambers, a gifted singer from Australia, is looking like the future Nicole Kidman of Nashville, a town that is to mainstream country music what Hollywood is to film.

Of course, there are really two Nashvilles, each with its own set of royalty. The hits-oriented wing has Garth Brooks and Faith Hill, while the artistic wing has Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.

Ms. Chambers’ Barricades and Brickwalls (Warner Bros.) pitches its tent squarely in the latter category and comes with instant validation–Ms. Williams lending her wracked, quavery vocal imprimatur to “On a Bad Day.”

If legions of National Public Radio devotees prick up their ears because of Ms. Williams’ involvement, that’s swell. But Ms. Chambers’ contralto is such a rich, keening instrument that it doesn’t really need any help from the celebrity corner.

Her voice is so genuine, so honeyed, that clichéd lyrical tropes involving runaway trains and “crying a river of tears” go down easier than they have a right to. Even “Ignorance”–a truly silly dirge hidden at the end of the album, in which she enumerates global injustice after injustice–is more tolerable. Ms. Chambers is not an innovative writer, but then the last innovative country songwriter, Jimmie Rodgers, died in 1933.

Given her antipodean roots, purists will probably also carp about what constitutes a birthright to make credible country music, but the elongated vowels of down-under syntax, as well as the Aussies’ complicated feelings of rage and inferiority regarding the British Isles, lend themselves to the genre. The fact that Ms. Chambers’ family traveled the outback in the late 80’s, before she and her brother began a country band, also doesn’t hurt.

Besides, any lingering doubts disappear when Ms. Chambers opens her mouth to sing. Her blue yodel in “A Little Bit Lonesome” and piercing melancholy on “Million Tears” are first-rate and, as a whole, Brick Walls and Barricades is much better at showing off Ms. Chambers’ considerable talent than her last album, The Captain .

Will we be seeing her move to Nashville to become the town’s next insurgent ingénue? Not bloody likely, as they say in Sydney. But we can always appreciate her from afar.

Cornelius: Radioheady

Have you listened to either Kid A or Amnesiac , Radiohead’s one-two punch of dreary dystopia, lately? Did it occur to you that both have as much heart as those notorious San Franciscan dog lovers, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller?

Cornelius’ Point (Matador) is for those who don’t mind generosity and a sense of fun in electronic music. The Japanese polymath, a.k.a. Keigo Oyamada, includes a dollop of disco, a bit of bossa nova and a sliver of speed metal in his first full-length record since 1998’s Fantasma . The record also vacillates between a mood redolent of Robert Wyatt’s oceanic 1974 Rock Bottom and the sound of a CD player malfunctioning. And that’s a compliment.