Johnny & Jaalene – Johnny & Jaalene
Rip Cat Records – 2019
12 tracks; 36 minutes
Johnny Ramos made his recording debut on his father’s Old School release last year, handling vocals on a couple of songs and here Kid repays the favour by playing guitar and assembling a great band of So-Cal musicians to back his son and singing partner Jaalene DeLeon on a selection of 50’s and 60’s music that takes in rockabilly, doo-wop, soul and Tex Mex. There are no original songs here but the band and singers seem to enjoy themselves across the dozen selections. Johnny and Jaalene share the vocals, Kid Ramos and Tommy Harkenrider are on guitars, Brent Harding on bass and Kip Dapps on drums; Ron Dziubla adds sax to three tracks and accordionist Jesus Cuevas helps to create the Chicano feel on four cuts.
If you’re looking to recreate iconic teen music of the 60’s where better to start than with a Phil Spector tune? The choice is “Baby I Love You” (Spector, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich), a monster hit for The Ronettes back in 1963 and the two teenagers do a good job. Jaalene in particular sounds great on what was once Ronnie Spector’s vocal feature, the band sounding very good, if not quite the ‘wall of sound’. Next up is Carla Thomas’ ‘Gee Whiz’, sung angelically by Jaalene with trembling guitar behind her before Johnny responds with a burst of rock and roll on Eddie Cochran’s ‘Teenage Cutie’ the band creating a jangly, echoey sound that really nails the early Rn’R feel. Back in the 60’s it was quite common for songwriters to adapt foreign language songs (check out Dusty Springfield’s repertoire) and Gilbert Bécaud’s “Je t’appartiens” was translated from French into English as “Let It Be Me” and became a huge hit for The Everly Brothers. Johnny and Jaalene’s take on it is a quiet version with just guitar for most of the song. In contrast Etta James’ “Good Lookin’” stomps along with Ron Dziubla’s exuberant sax added to the core band, a solo vocal feature for Jaalene. The next three songs all feature the accordion: “Los Chucos Suaves” (Lalo Guerrero) has plenty of acoustic guitar as Johnny sings it in Spanish and evokes the border cantina pretty well to these ears; the 1960 Rosie & The Originals hit “Angel Baby” is sung by Jaalene in a high register giving an ethereal quality to the song which has a nice sax solo in the middle; Texan Doug Sahm wrote “Why Why Why” and Johnny sings it in heart-wrenching style, Ron’s sax again adding to the track.
Jaalene is back on vocals for a frenetic version of Jesse Mae Robinson’s “Let’s Have A Party”, quintessential rock and roll with a lively guitar solo that really evokes the period, appropriately all contained within 2.36, as was often the case back in the day. Brian and Jim Feli’s “Please Give Me Something” is a real obscurity which a bit of research discovered was originally a hit for Bill Allen & The Back Beats in 1958 and has subsequently been covered seven times though not by a name that this reviewer recognized! Johnny sings it, his vocals rather lost in the mix though the twin guitars sound great. A second song in Spanish is “Cuando Calienta El Sol”, a 1962 record from Los Hermanos Rigual, written by brothers Carlos and Mario, here sung wistfully by Jaalene who also breaks into English with “every beat of your heart”. The album closes with what may just be the best track, a rousing version of “One Summer Night”, a 1958 song written by Danny Webb for his doo-wop group The Danleers; it became their only hit but sold over a million copies! Great vocals from both Johnny and Jaalene, fine accordion and guitar work, extremely catchy.
Not really a blues record but good fun and very evocative of that period of teenage innocence in the late 50’s/early 60’s. Both these young singers have great potential and it will be interesting to see where their careers go next.