Johnnyswim didn't play to a sell-out crowd last night at the Cistern, and I'm guessing it was because a lot of folks just didn't know who they were. However, for those of us who caught the husband-and-wife duo of Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano Ramirez, it's a steamy Lowcountry night we'll never forget.
When the pair took the stage with their drummer and bass player in tow, Abner was carrying his acoustic guitar and sporting a bow tie, and Amanda was perfectly dressed for a hot Charleston night in a pastel mini-skirt, white tank top, and six-inch heels. Before they started playing they told the audience that they'd been looking forward to this gig for months, and then they invited us to sing along, dance, clap — anything but frown. And for the next hour and 45 minutes, the duo charmed and entertained and engaged the audience and we responded with applause and lots of laughter.
Abner is a funny cat; his patter is perfect and his storytelling delightful. His voice is at once light rock and soulful. And he's fun to watch. He purred and growled and sang his ass off, too, particularly on the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell cover, "If This World Were Mine." Amanda, a former model, is stunningly beautiful and has a rich voice that reminded me of Corinne Bailey Rae, Adele, and Norah Jones all mixed into one. Her voice is folksy and kind of rock-ish and jazzy, too. Her phrasing was expressive, often unpredictably beautiful as she sang each song, often staring into her husband's eyes and doing a kind of mating dance, undulating and rocking toward him, coaxing his guitar and his voice in her own little dance world. Their song, "Annie," a break-up number, was exquisite, with Abner wistfully singing, "The carpet still holds the shape of your feet from the last time I saw you, when you walked away from me," and Amanda chimed in, "Love can be a poison or the sweetest remedy." And then they sang, "Jolene," which is one of my favorites. Amanda sang strong: "Please don't take my man, even though you can."
Over the course of the evening, they performed some soul, R&B, Cuban, folk music, and rock 'n' roll before ending the night with some country music that the Charleston audience really dug, hooting and hollering and applauding long and hard. We tried to coax them back out for an encore, but it didn't happen.
Categorizing Johnnyswim is not easy. They did it all — soul, R&B, Cuban, folk, rock —and they did it beautifully, having lots of fun and laughing with each other along the way. This duo invites you in, not just with their music and their style, but the stories they tell within the music and outside of it, like the story of how Abner proposed — it involved Paris, the Eiffel Tower, and an ill-timed decision by a dog to poop on the ground beside them. Needless to say, Amber said yes, and after their performance at the Cistern, we did too.