Those who remember my review of Johnny & Jaalene’s debut are well aware that I’m enamored with their musical gifts. Their sophomore effort is titled Underneath The Mistletoe: it’s an inspired five song EP containing two originals, two covers, and a medley.
The opener, “Rockin’ Medley,” is a high energy romp through Christmas songs, both well known and slightly obscure. Both Johnny and Jaalene sound fresh and vital as they move from shared duets to lead vocal turns. The four song medley starts with “It’s Christmas Time Pretty Baby,” a song found in Elvis Presley’s holiday stocking. Here it’s updated in modern rockabilly style. “Baby Please Come Home” features Jaleene crooning and “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” is a pure delight that easily could have been afforded a full version. Chuck Berry’s “Run, Run Rudolph” nicely ends the medley with spirited piano, a Johnny vocal, and an ensemble assist.
The title track, “Underneath The Mistletoe” is an original written by Johnny Ramos. It has an old school feel, thanks in part to Johnny’s guitar tone bringing to mind Dick Dale. Yet, the song is definitely contemporary, perhaps even timeless. The harmony on this duet is spectacular, blending seamlessly together with a closeness that resembles siblings.
“Christmas Means Love” features an endearing vocal by Johnny on this song that was a hit long ago for Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers. Sam Cooke was a genuinely great singer; but in my opinion, Johnny generates more passion on this rendition. The guitar arrangement is tasteful and fits like a glove.
An up-tempo Ramos original composition titled “Let’s Go Caroling” kicks the party into high gear. A song perfect for a modern sock hop; it’s sure to get you in the festive caroling mood.
Jaalene presents a beautifully restrained remake of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” It showcases her gorgeous balladry accompanied by some pretty guitar from Ramos. This could have been recorded anytime in the past seventy years, it’s that compellingly timeless and elegant.
All the songs contained on the EP are primo offerings that feature quality artistry. Jaalene sings with a purity that is captivating, and I believe she could indeed charm the birds out of the trees with her sweet song. The Johnny Ramos arrangement proves professionally proficient. This effort whets the appetite for more, and I eagerly await their next musical endeavor.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com