Reviews & Feature Articles

Vocalist Karen Johns struts through a myriad of swooning ballads, perky showtunes, Dixieland jaunts with big band swing style, and melodies accented with Latin-tinged revelry on her new CD Peach.  She covers several classics such as “Chattanooga Choo Choo” clasped in boogie-woogie motifs with Ken Watters on trumpet frills and the ballroom jamboree of Henry Mancini’s “Meglio Stasera” featured in the 1963 film The Pink Panther as Johns sings the verses in their original Italian by Franco Migliacci.  Other tracks are original compositions penned by Johns such as the big band extravaganza of “Sugarboo” and the smoldering torchlit atmospherics shading “I Speak Woman, You Speak Man” trussed in whispery keys.

Johns’ strong voice and distinctive inflections are reminiscent of the vocalists of the 1940’s who made their debut at such jazz staples as Café Society in New York City and Storyville in Boston. She brandishes an Andrews Sisters-chicness in her voicing on “I Love You Forever” glided by the springy lobes of Jim Hoke’s saxophone, and then switches comfortably into breathy wisps along the verses of “Five O’clock Shadow” supported by the gentle ebb and flow of Chris Kozak’s bass notes and the tender streaks of Kevin Sanders’ piano keys.  Her vocal glissando chording the Dixieland vibed “(You Don’t Know” How Glad I Am” embellish the shuffling drum strokes of Michael Glaser.  She is joined by her son/tenor Gabriel Johns, and her husband/guitarist James Johns who each sing harmony vocals on “Must-Be-Seen”, providing a gruffy tone to contrast her smooth glides.  “Rocket City” is embroidered in swing-infused threads with morph into the balladry flutters of “Red Bird” closing the album on a melody influenced by classic swing.

Karen Johns is a classical trained vocalist having studied at San Francisco State University, University of Oregon, and University of Copenhagen in Denmark.  Her credits include being a lead actress/vocalist for Synergy Professional Dinner Theatre, and student vocalist for the Alaska Light Opera.  A seasoned vocalist, stage actress, dancer, and composer, Karen Johns seems to have accomplished it all and shows she is still going strong with her latest offering Peach.

Sometimes she’s so perky and playful, bouncy and breezy, that you can’t imagine a cloud in her pink sky. Then another track brings a gentle melancholy. Versatile-voiced Karen Johns skips through a baker’s dozen of songs in her eclectic CD (her eighth) Peach. On the majority of them, she is the writer of the lyrics and co-composer with her fine pianist, Kevin Sanders.  Some of the selections are from the singer-actress-dancer-writer’s own theatre project—a swing jazz musical… Two of the tracks are indicated with the word “reprise” in parentheses, but only appear once; I’m guessing that means they are the reprise versions in the context of the musical. Songs by other writers are interspersed among the originals.

On many tracks, Karen’s lead vocal is supplemented with her own voice layered on again to create the effect of a vocal group reminiscent of those genial sound popular decades ago, along the lines of The Andrews Sisters and The Boswell Sisters.  Numbers like “Sugarboo” (the wisely-placed opener) establish her as one who can sass her way through irresistibly catchy material that induces a smile.

She sounds pleased as punch, chugging along with the old, zippy Harry Warren/Mack Gordon “Chattanooga Choo Choo”.  It’s also nice to hear an old Nancy Wilson hit from the 1960s, (You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am” with its usual groove… She gets a bit of the strut from the bi-lingual song from The Pink Panther film, “Meglio Stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight)” by Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, and Franco Migliacci… But there are other moods too, with a couple of languid tempi and ventures into singing in other languages, and a couple of downbeat changes of pace.  “I Speak Woman, You Speak Man” has a shrug of resignation and reality that has some appeal and crispness (“We push all the wrong buttons again / No one needs the upper hand / We both should understand… The colors on our canvas should blend”). But it’s the simple and sugary smiley songs standing out that register, like the unpretentious “I Love You Forever” those harmonies and tasty accents from flute and reeds distracting from repetitive lyrics and that old, unfortunate false rhyme of together-forever. But then she’ll turn around and surprise with a more interesting turn of phrase as in the wistful lament “Five O’clock Shadow” setting the scene with (“Lipstick on an empty glass of scotch / He’s late again according to her watch” and continuing the saga with “All too often unexpectedly / He writes the most romantic poetry). Another story of a woman and man not in the healthiest, happiest relationship stylishly told.  With some jazz licks and a bit of scat is “Must-Be-Seen” which becomes a family affair with husband/co-producer James Johns (the CD’s guitarist) and their son, Gabriel, singing along. Some of these songs seem to have more than meets the ear, such as the final track, the haunting and ingratiating “Red Bird” with its references to singing “behind a broken heart” and the flute of Jim Hoke standing in for the sound of the avian subject. Though it seems like a grab-bag, quite a lot here is worth grabbing onto and certainly grabs the ear with pleasing vocals and some evocative instrumental work.

Karen Johns is a winner. She possesses classic looks, has a voice to match, and her new album of jazz vocals backed by her sizzling big band, Peach by Karen Johns & Company is definitely in its own class.

Johns has an electrifying harmonic range that lifts and transports a listener to the dizzying heights of any jazz era from the delightful, swinging 40s of the incomparable Andrews Sisters, to the modern-day ballad domain of consummate song stylist Nancy Wilson.  She sings with a ‘joie de vivre’ and singular originality that separates her from every other vocalist in her genre.  She confidently straddles the powerful engine of her captivating band, and she may never be caught. Enriching her oeuvre is her ‘quintuple threat’ status as vocalist, actress, dancer, and add to that, librettist, and playwright.  She gives claim to being a seriously committed artist for all seasons.  Putting it all together on this CD, she’s sweetly rambunctious, daring, irreverent, hilarious, exotic, and alluring, always reaching for something extra but she is never dull or lacking in imagination. 

A not so subtle invitation (“Sugarboo”) to “throw the bags in the trunk… hit the highway… with the top down the wind blows warm and breezy…” this five-part harmony (all Johns) adds irresistible urgency to the tune’s glibness equally sanctioned by Chris Kozak’s steady walking bass, Jim Hoke’ airy flute and swinging, soaring saxophones, and Ken Watters trumpet, and presents an appealing vignette of energetic, unpredictable zest for life imagery that permeates this fast-moving CD through 13 tracks.  To remove any doubt about Karen Johns impressive vocal range, versatility, and daring, she dusts off Henry Mancini’s 1963 “Meglio Stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight)” from The Pink Panther (last heard sung by Fran Jeffries) this time out, Johns sings it in flawless, passionate Italian and English like she owned it.

Anyone who takes the time to peruse Johns’ bio will discover a rigorously trained song stylist who has developed impeccable pitch and intonation, and exquisitely sparkling elocution heard clearly on the title track “Peach” accompanied by Kevin Sander’s accenting piano.  She burrows deeply beneath her own lyric with Streisand-esque clarity and intensity, being assuaged by the comforting warmth of Jim Hoke’s clarinet to search deeper meaning and truth in the ageless narrative that describes the ever-raging battle of the sexes.

Johns proves that she is vocally at home with the full band or trio (“Precious Find”) to belt out the lyric and fill the space opened up by the rhythm section with power. Her approach is seasoned with adaptability—that rare ability to effect stunning change at will… but then, she is an actress. She begins to expand the theatre of her talent with “Sentimentale”, painting an alluring picture with classic Mediterranean colors suspended over a backdrop of mood-altering strings, and strolling Toots Theilemans-like harmonica.  

A quick change of make-up, wardrobe, and tempo, and a new theatre takes center stage with “I Love You Forever” containing the stark imagery of youthful 40s popdom.  Even the song title contains a promise of misapplied idealism, a place we’ve all been with emotions we’ve all felt but can’t remember where or when.  Johns then plunges the knife sharpened by emotion into our collective psyche, and she twists it with “Five O’clock Shadow” into the confusing pathos swirling around “Mr. Nonchalant”—a mystery about ourselves, our co-dependence, our low self-esteem, and our emotional instability wrapped up in the brooding voice of Karen Johns, the pensive piano of Kevin Sanders, and the searching guitar of James Johns.

Nancy Wilson’s 1964 hit song (You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am” could not have been placed in a better place on this date.  It is the perfect intermission point following the emotionally draining performance by Karen Johns and the band during the last three tracks.  This is palpable release in the bright, airy delivery of the lyric that can be heard in Johns’ swinging three-voice harmony. But before Johns reveals the denouement of the story, she indulges her fancy as a playwright and takes us to the cabaret in the company of the theatrical Miss with “Must-Be-Seen” with her son Gabriel and her producer/guitarist husband James Johns… you see, Karen Johns is a very family-oriented person. She makes her way to the exit with a spirited version of her “Rocket City” which is identified in the liver notes as Huntsville, Alabama where the history of NASA’s first launch to the moon had its beginning. It’s also the city from which Karen Johns & Company truly found themselves launched into a wider jazz recognition and popularity. The Company finally take their leave on the graceful flight of a floating “Red Bird”, that is, the final track. From a music hall in the mind, to theatre, cabaret and back, Karen Johns & Company have delivered a date with a stunning display of natural talent and vision.  There’s a lot to be heard, felt, and realized through the Karen Johns experience… it just takes a little quiet time.

There is always something to be said about artists who reach back into their nostalgic memories and dig out great songs which have influenced them and have been long forgotten, or rather, relegated to the dustier record shelves.  Vocalist Karen Johns has done just this on her new album Peach, and the more interesting thing about this album is that she and collaborator Kevin Sanders have also written a batch of songs that echo the best elements of the songs she is reviving.  That sound is the 40s and 50s swinging sound of the Andrews Sisters and more silky crooning of Julie London.  It all makes for a fun and interesting album with some beautifully sung (several inventively multi-tracked vocals by Ms. Johns, and some extremely warm-hearted performances from her band.

Amongst the songwriters featured are Henry Mancini and Harry Warren, but I have to say that the songs Ms. Johns has written so fit their 40s and50s swing and pop idioms that they sound like forgotten classics. Peach is one of the most enjoyable and fun albums I have listened to in quite some time.  The humor and inventiveness and sheer high-quality musicality of the album and performances should bring a smile to many pop-jazz fans. Karen Johns has a voice full of light and shade and she makes these songs her own throughout and I highly recommend this album.

A PEACH of a jazz album! Karen Johns is an actress, vocalist, and dancer.  She had a fairly successful album back in 2008 called Star and Season. It got airplay all around the world and earned Karen spots on several Top 10 charts.  Now Karen has another offering, a thirteen-song album that features material from a musical play Karen wrote, and on the album Peach, she features numbers from the musical.

“Sugarboo” is the first song (an original composition) on the album, and it’s a smile effecting, whirlwind jazz vocal piece as Karen’s terrific vocals are accompanied by excellent woodwinds along with tough bass and piano. “Meglio Stasera” is a swift and vivid samba-styled song written by Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer and Franco Migliacci for The Pink Panther film with Peter Sellers whereby Ms. Johns sings the front end in Italian and the last verse of the song in English—a fun and definite head-bopping, hip-swinging tune.  An endearing and somewhat heartstring-pulling original song is “I Speak Woman, You Speak Man”. It’s a wonderful song to slowly slide along the dance floor to. Karen Johns & Company do a fine job emulating the Andrews Sisters in an excellent rendition of “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, and nice bass and piano give Karen a good backdrop for fluid vocals on the light toe-tapper original “Precious Find”.  Another great song for the dance floor is Karen’s rendition of the classic Italian song, “Sentimentale” and again Karen sings fine Italian—making it another extra special track. The original “I Love You Forever” is light and breezy followed by the original love lament, “Five O’clock Shadow”, a soft and gentle song, but oh-so-special with lyrics that will tug at your heartstrings as Ms. Johns laments about a guy that’s a bit of a loveable cad. More toe-tapping background music can be found in the smile-effecting Nancy Wilson song, “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am” and it’s a fitting track as Karen’s vocals have been at times compared to Ms. Wilson’s.  “Must-Be-Seen” is a fun original about people that just have to be out in society so that everyone knows who they are, and James Johns and Gabriel Johns lend their vocal talents along side Karen’s.  The original “Rocket City” is an energetic swing that features some tough guitar and nice trumpet, in fact, the first two minutes of the song are strictly instrumental, and Karen’s vocals are sung in a higher key than most of the other songs on the album, and a definite demonstration of her versatile, broad vocal range.  The album concludes with the original “Red Bird”, a serene and melodic tune with a wonderful flute solo, and the song made me think of Barbara Streisand’s vocals and style. Vibrant, energetic, and a whole lot of fun, Peach is a fine collection of original and classic jazz vocal tunes.

The formula that works for my old top-40 ears is some sort of universal condition, one in which any of us can imagine ourselves, and a good hoot—that’s the memorable earworm that sticks with you. It’s harder than it sounds. Ms. Johns gets this, from the opening track “Sugarboo” the title itself is an earworm, evoking a breezy trip in a convertible with one’s sweetie, to the more- melancholy piece, “I Speak Woman, You Speak Man”.  Ms. Johns talent is not limited to the pen though. None of this would work without her creamy and supple alto, and the Company, her backing band:  James Johns on guitar, Kevin Sanders on piano, Chris Kozak on bass, Michael Glaser on percussion, Jim Hoke on reeds and harmonica (a nice touch on “Sentimentale”) and Ken Watters on trumpet.  Mix in some off-the-beaten-track standards—two Italian and one Nancy Wilson “How Glad I Am” (one of my all-time favorites) and well, this one will be in heavy rotation for some time to come.

Singer, actress, dancer Karen Johns flirts hard with novelty on Peach, stopping at the point of faithful historiography. Her their jazz recording features songs from her swing-jazz musical, Once There Was a Peach, songs that emphasize swing era girl-group vocal chops flavored with a splash of mint julep. Johns sings the lead and harmony parts, a nifty trick that if done with kless talent would have ended in hallow novelty rather than preservation or innovation. The Andrews Sisters’ 1941 hit, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” gets a faithful recreation by Johns—herself and… herself.  Johns studied hard on this one, her inflections identical to those of the three sisters. She produces a version of an analog swing tune with a bright digital shine. In other quarters this might be considered quaint, but for those of certain age whose parents shared the original with them, Johns manages easily to show both the appeal of the music and the genius of The Andrews Sisters. 

Just think about the CD title… smooth, sensual, and mighty tasty when your wrap your lips (or your mind in this case) around it.  Tunes like the jazzy-blues “Rocket City” will whet your appetite for jazz vocals that just won’t quit, and when you scope out Karen’s unique rendition of “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, you’ll know you’re going to be sated for sure. I was first exposed to Karen’s silky style in issue #89 where she got a great rating from my ears.  Karen’s husband James kicks-out some great guitar work in support of the 5 other players… the other way-cool thing about her work is that she wrote both lyrics and music on 9 of the 13 tunes—not just another jazz singer by any stretch of the imagination.  My personal favorite on her Peach album is another Karen original, “Red Bird”, total talent and synch on display here!  I give Karen and her crew a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED with and “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.

A very tastefully produced pop-jazz CD which benefits from Karen Johns’ appreciable skills as both singer and songwriter. Once again her strong, silky soprano warms to the lyrics at hand, all of which are her own except for the few invited from other sources (“Meglio Stasera” “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “Sentimentale”, and “How Glad I Am”). All Karen’s songs are literate, and its clear she is an absolutely genuine songwriting talent.  It would not surprise this reviewer if some of her songs, such as “I Speak Woman, You Speak Man” and “Precious Find” turned up on the larynxes of other singers, but it would be hard to imagine anyone singing them better because her phrasing and embrace of lyrics is flawless.  She has a beautiful, direct, and unaffected vocal instrument and its clear she can make it do her bidding. 

Some bristling trumpet from Ken Watters on “Rocket City”,  the multi-tracking of “Sugarboo”, and the synthesis of “Sentimentale” is handled discreetly as stand outs with high-quality musicianship. According to liner notes, “some nifty music videos” featuring several songs on the album are accessible at KarenJohns.com and KargaJamezFilms.com.  Well, I sampled them and indeed, they are nifty to say the least.

The multi-talented Karen Johns is not only a singer but also a songwriter, actress, librettist, and playwright. The highly entertaining and truly sweet Peach by Karen Johns & Company is their third jazz album and Karen’s eighth album overall. The group delivers an exciting, infectious sound reminiscent of the golden age Swing Era.  Sounding at times more like a big band than a light ensemble, the vocalist and her producer/guitarist/husband James Johns have designed stellar brass arrangements to serve as swinging backdrops to the nine original tunes and four covers that harken back to the sound of the orchestras of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman.

Johns happens to be one of the very few legitimate triple-threat performers (vocalist/actress/dancer) and it’s a chameleon-like ability to make that special connection with the audience that allows Peach to work so well.  Clearly this old school CD with great arrangements and terrific work by a swinging band allow Johns’ pristine vocals to transform music from a bye-gone era and remind us just how relevant swing is today!

Johns and her pals are out to take a trip back to the gold age of the broads. Jazzy, like something that popped out of the Benny Goodman era, they bring a mature and fresh edge to the sound, sneaking in a bit of a wink amid the note-perfect era performances. A terrifically fun diversion, both grandpa and hipster grandson can clink highball glasses with this in the background. Ever wonder what would happen if the Pointers Sisters and the Boswell Sisters met on the street corner for a face-off? You might find the results here… check it out!

A day brighter, that’s what this is! Creating a sound reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters or the Maguire Sisters, there’s a lot of fun here! In fact, if I had the chance to meet her, I’d bet the mortgage that Karen Johns would concur that a “fun disc” was her goal. Many of the tunes are Johns’ original melodies and lyrics— and something quite rare these days—they actually sound like real songs… you know, melody line, bridge, back to melody line and in the midst of her own creations she tosses in a few familiar items. How about Henry Mancini’s “Meglio Stasera / It Had Better Be Tonight”? Or tap your toes to “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. Finally, there’s a rendition of a pop song Nancy Wilson did a long time ago, “How Glad I Am”, perhaps you remember it? All this fun and frivolity takes place in a very polite and hip group of accompanists.

Karen Johns is a cool voice with a natural flair for jazz!  Her songs are sweet-voiced with verve and class—gorgeous, supple, and elegant lead and backing vocals all in one woman. Karen Johns & Company are in a class all their own—excellent!

Listeners are taking two distinct but intertwined journeys in Star and Season. Karen Johns & Company moves us fluidly through both the seasons of the year and the seasons of love. It is a deliberate effort that pays off richly. As a native ‘and proud’ Alabaman, it was a thrill to hear this rendition of ‘Stars Fell On Alabama’. The pace is perfect, the musical tones are rich, and it taps into several emotions at once: nostalgia for my Alabama childhood; the joy of living outside the city, where the skies are dark and the stars are magnificent; and the love of building a life here with my wife. It’s a fantastic track. ‘While the Moon’ grabbed me and refused to let go. Karen’s voice is both soulful and melancholy, allowing listeners to interpret the song according to their mood… is it a hope-filled acknowledgment of current love, or a sorrowful remembrance of love lost? ‘Southland Summer’ sounds exactly like it should: sultry… and it’s not in a hurry. Karen’s vocal performance makes the song what it is, and the imagery of summertime in the South is spot on. Anyone who has spent time here during those months will nod his or her head in agreement. Karen Johns and her fine company of talented musicians who contributed to Star and Season have created music that has staying power. It’s not merely a collection of songs. The entire work has purpose and meaning, and it invites us on a journey that’s worth taking at any season.

The music swings along with a healthy dose of jovial energy on “Carry Me Away”, the opener. That spirit is pervasive throughout the session. Johns enjoys herself as she sings with free emotion. The band is precise with crisp accents scattered throughout. They take us through the seasons of the calendar and the stages of love. Karen is based in Tennessee and Alabama and carries the relaxed pace into her music, a characteristic that works well. Highlights are “Night and Day”, “Autumn Leaves”, “While the Moon” (an original), and “Desafinado”.

AUGUSTA, GA – Smooth and simple, soft and sweet, the voice of Karen Johns breathes a sweet lament into the air, and throughout the play of her second album, she smiles through the vocals with a sense of purpose and depth. “Star and Season” provides a splendid visit into a world of soft sounds and serenades crafted with an intricate intimacy.  Throughout the work, the only thing worth comparing to the beauty of Johns’ vocal is the masterful accompaniment of her Company. 

The record opens with a sweet invitation. John’s soars above the chords in “Carry Me Away” reminiscent of the power of an Ella Fitzgerald record, and with such an opening, the scene is set for the unfolding of a classic recording. The beauty of the Porter classic “Night and Day” is re-worked with a deepening focal point found in the vocal range of the songstress, and the tepid strains of the backing sound in “Stars Fell on Alabama” merely fade away from the majesty of John’s voice box.  The band joins the parade primarily in “While the Moon,” which offers a robust wind piece curtailed by a mesmerizing piano drip that compliments the vocal in an ongoing serenade. In the haunting power of melancholy, Johns’ finds a home over simple piano strokes on “If.”  Furthermore, the guitar work in the swinging “Company Blues” is worthy of its own attention with a smooth strain of passionate response from the piano player. The combination of the two creates a district of groove in “Company Blues.”  Throughout the piece, the powerful weapon of choice is the vocal. Rather its scorn-filled power in “Southland Summer” or soft-sultry singing in “If” or a polished response to the world in “China Town,” Johns’ voice shines throughout the piece. Flying over precise arrangements and intricately crafted musical compositions, Star and Season may be the formation of a new jazz standard.

Vocalist and Composer Karen Johns combines her ability to swoon the listener with sultry, jazz vocals and swinging original compositions that further highlight her abilities to create a stellar offering of her own jazz standards which stand on their own next to the classic and timeless American Songbook selections.

Similar to the variation in New England seasons, Karen Johns is equal in the moods that swing from her new, self-released CD, Star and Season. Partnered in life and song with husband James, Ms. Johns and Company has spun a collection of meticulous jazz confections, which delve into a much deserving catalogue of music sheets.

Ms. Johns performance portrays numerous dimensions, which are felt on this disc. She captures the lounge seductress within a smoke-filled room with the cut “Night and Day,” and then is off in an elegant show tune-esque sway with “China Town,” both alluring with a unique stage appeal. I take pleasure in the attitudes of her eclectic voice, a dynamic real time experiment in performance. The lady has authoritative range with her vocals… Ms. Johns’ execution of arrangements can be compared to notes vying for her affection, with the result actually being, the affection becoming ours.

The spice of the disc bulks up a bold behavior, with the horn-heavy spin “Carry Me Away,” a cool yet brazen Ms. Johns is unleashed for an uplifting feel of loveliness… Note a bit of her scat side flexing its muscles! Star and Season is a compelling disc, one that makes the audience brace themselves. You are drawn to its romantic pitch and pulse, yet the task of defining the artist is indefinably original. The line-up on stage with her, along with guitarist-husband James, in most cases matches her talent precisely. Star and Season has that “chart presence” promise. One thing I can assure you of, the star for any season is present on every spin!

Karen Johns has a bio that just goes on and on.  Bachelor’s degree in music, Masters in Theology.  Beauty queen.  Filmmaker.  She is one smart cookie.  Go look.  Then say, “boy howdy.”  That’s what I did.  But as the Duke used to say, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”  Ms. Johns and her band have that… in spades.  Five of the eleven tracks are originals, written by Ms. Johns and her piano guy, Kevin Sanders.  Every one of them stands up just fine along-side the classics included here.  The opening track, “Carry Me Away,” is so classic sounding, I swore I’d heard it before.  In the press handout, it says the disc takes the listener on “…two distinct but intertwined journeys:  the season of the year and the seasons of love.”  Good work by the rest of the band—hubby James Johns on guitar, Bart Elliott on drums and percussion, Brook Sutton on upright bass, Jim Hoke on saxophone and clarinet, Mark Horwitz on flute and trombone, and Ben Graves on mandolin.  But Ms. Johns blows me away.  Not just with her range and styling, both of which are enough to make her stand out in a crowd.  But the music itself is the very best of stuff.  This disc is very highly recommended.  I will eagerly anticipate what’s next, and haunt the website until I find it.  

Night and Day – Karen Johns and CompanyThis is from the album, “Star and Season,” originally reviewed in 2008, Ms. Johns has one of the best life stories I’ve ever read.  And the nicely-swinging music she and her band makes is top notch.  Hails from Franklin, Tennessee.  It’s near Nashville.  I had to look it up. 

“Carry Me Away” video review on Girlsingers (UK) This past week, as I was rooting around for stuff I love that fell off the iPod, I ran across Karen Johns and Company – I loved their stuff a couple of years ago, and said so.  Anyway, I’ve dusted off that disc and have been enjoying it a lot.  Then a note from publicist pal, Kari, pointed me to Ms. Johns’ YouTube version of one of the tracks from that disc.  I enjoyed it.  I’ll bet you do, too.

Karen Johns and Company put together a very pretty jazz album with Star and Season. Johns’ vocals are absolutely beautiful— it is hard not to like her voice, as it is very soothing and sensual. Some tracks are covers and are done well; other tracks are romantic and sensual. These songs would be great to listen to for a slow dance and that is why I like them. The album is very straightforward in the lyrics and melodies. There are surprises, too, such as a lovely flute solo in the fourth track. The sounds on this album are classy and kind of old-fashioned.

With the double theme of a journey through the seasons of the year and of love, this new album by Karen Johns and Company begins in a very lively fashion with a ‘40s style tribute on “Carry Me Away” (channeling the Andrews Sisters!). The album, Star and Season, has eleven tracks that are a mixture of songs written by Karen Johns plus a sell chosen selection of covers of jazz, pop and show tunes. While being jazz to its core this album has a strong pop sensibility—listen to Ms. Johns’ version of “If”, “Night and Day”, “Desafinado”, and “Autumn Leaves” to see what I mean.  Luckily, Ms. Johns also is a gifted songwriter and her own compositions match the classics easily—“Carry Me Away” is a great opening track for any album, setting the scene and creating the mood for what follows. Ms. Johns also has a very pleasing voice, light and melodic, gliding on the notes rather than plowing through them like some pop singers I could name. “While the Moon” is a most affecting track and should be gracing any late night smooth jazz playlist. I’d also like to compliment the ‘Company’ of musicians backing her, this band is very tight and give an already great voice that extra boost to raise the stakes. In fact, this is one of the most radio-friendly albums I have heard for some time!

This is a concept album about love; plug in this singer and her crew and it gets fleshed out in a different way. The kind of stuff you hear when you tumble into a hotel bar not expecting much and walk out with a CD in your hand a few sets later. Well played throughout, Johns knows her way around a song and delivers the goods hot.

Johns has a very versatile, disciplined voice (which you would expect from someone who learned singing by working on the opera repertoire), but her style is entirely natural and easy feeling.  This in itself is an accomplishment; not everyone who has sung Opera can make the transition to Jazz.  She can sing with the lightest of touches when necessary.  Johns can croon and swing with equal authority and you will never hear a vocal faux pas in her phrasing.  The album itself is a nice mixture of Jazz standards combined with original songs written by Johns and others.  I don’t mind hearing new renditions of “Night and Day” or “Autumn Leaves”.  What really attracts me to this CD is the original music.  You’ll want to listen to “Angels In the Snow” and “China Town” for examples of good contemporary Jazz singing and writing.  I really enjoyed “Carry Me Away”.  If these songs aren’t covered by lesser jazz-erinas over the years, there ain’t no justice.  Unusually, there’s a cover of “If” from the fluff-music meister David Gates of Bread and I think that Johns finds a new way to express the emotions buried in this oldie.  The musicians are accomplished (Johns’ husband James plays guitar) and their work makes this CD more than the sum of its parts, supporting Johns in all the right places without dominating the stage.

Karen Johns is a swingin’ jazz singer who does it without all of the extravagance some singers try to push, or if it’s there, it’s fairly subtle. Star and Season (Ptarmigan Music/Jazz) is an album for those who want their jazz standards to be sung and played with respect, and this album, credited as Karen Johns & Company, is full of respect, class, and dignity. 



Much of that comes from the way Johns sings, very smooth and with a lot of elegance. In her version of “Night & Day” I almost sensed a folk influence but that may be simply her pulling a quick vocal trick or two. Bread’s “If” gets a beautiful treatment here, even a song like this which has been played to death for the last 35 years, Johns sings this and makes it her own song, as if it was meant for her to sing.  She also introduces a few originals in a suite of songs that seem to bring together the seasons of the year, with her “Southland Summer” and “Angels In The Snow” becoming the bread to Johnny Mercer’s meat in the name of “Autumn Leaves”. “Angels In the Snow” is a song that I can easily see becoming a part of many holiday movies, and with luck it too will become a standard for jazz singers of the future. For now, Karen Johns is someone fans of vocal jazz should keep an eye and ear on. 


Karen’s got a good mix of Broadway revue, big band and sultry cafe singer in her voice and arrangements. More singers doing “Carry Me Away” with those gorgeous close harmonies and perhaps we’d have a desperately needed resurgence of the big band era. Alas, when they say styles always come back, they don’t refer to music or three-cornered hats. I only wish the CD were a little longer, but the radio-friendly running times will, I hope, keep some of these tracks on jazz play lists. Very pro, and A+ for energy in its variety.

Karen Johns & Company – STAR AND SEASON:  If you love “big band swing” with red-hot & smokin’-husky female vocals out in front, you’re going to fall in love with this on the opener, “Carry Me Away”… I did (yes, this is my favorite track), in great part because of Karen’s fantastic ability to make “scat” sound like regular conversation.  This is way more than just high talent, this kind of vocalist only comes along once in a blue moon.  Her rendition if “Night And Day” is just the cat’s meow, & you’ll find it a very comforting listen.  As I listen to this, I can visualize her in one of my old Huntsville haunts (the KaffeeKlatsch), though I doubt they’re still doing live music there… the reason I mention that is because her vocals remind me in many ways of a singer named Beth Jackson who used to perform in that venue.  My whole point here is that Karen has a kind of “southern flavor” in her songs, & those listeners who have heard jazz singers in that neck of the woods will know what I’m talking about when I say there’s a little “more” you get out of a well-composed jazz vocal when the singer is from down that way! This is an absolutely splendid album – comes MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me. 

Karen Johns has sung light opera, which is tough on any voice and comes through.  Her new album is a jazz album and her voice is free of operatic touches.  “Carry Me Away” is an original work that should get most feet tapping as Johns scats away.  “Stars Fell On Alabama” features a soft piano taking focus as Johns’ sweet voice sings.  Bread’s “If” gets a sensitive reading that really fits Johns and her band.  “Southland Summer”, another original, is languid and suitably summery as a saxophone paints lovely images.  Johns’ delivery is effortlessly sensual and sweet.  This is a fine little album.

This release kicks off with the nice original jazz swing tune “Carry Me Away” and then stays firmly planted in the traditional female jazz musical region.  I thoroughly enjoy Karen’s vocals.  There were a few standouts.  “Southland Summer” has a sultry, dare I say, Tom Waits feel to it.

I really love the Star and Season CD from Karen Johns, that’s why she is on the top of our charts and will be heard regularly on my program.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (May 2008) – The Franklin, Tenn., jazz quintet Karen Johns & Company is adding another dimension to the Nashville music scene by releasing Star and Season, a new CD of classic jazz standards and originals. The CD is already receiving radio airplay in major markets such as Toledo, San Diego, Nashville, and Orlando. The group, which specializes in sultry, swinging jazz standards, is celebrating the new album by launching a national concert tour. Recent stops have included a CD release concert at F. Scott’s Jazz Bar in Nashville and a standing room only performance at the Flying Monkey Arts Center in Huntsville, Ala. Star and Season features new original songs by Karen Johns and Kevin Sanders such as Southland Summer, Carry Me Away and While the Moon. Listeners also will enjoy new arrangements of classic jazz standards such as Night and Day, Autumn Leaves, Stars Fell on Alabama, and Desafinado. The CD also includes a soaring jazz version of the pop classic, If. The album was released April 21 on the Ptarmigan Music/Jazz label. 



“We are thrilled to release our second album in America’s country and gospel music capital,” Johns said. “Our jazz songwriting makes us unique from most of the other artists here. We’ve labored over the past two years to write and arrange new songs in the tradition of legendary songwriters like Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer. Star and Season also includes some of the most popular jazz classics of all time.” Star and Season takes listeners on two distinct but intertwined journeys: the seasons of the year and the seasons of love. The song Stars Fell On Alabama makes Southerners yearn for the nostalgia of their childhoods; the joy of living outside of the city, where the skies are dark and the stars are magnificent; and the joy of building lifetimes with their sweethearts. The stirring original number Southland Summer, which features Karen’s sultry vocals, presents the imagery of a hot, sticky summer evening in the South. Another original song, While the Moon, uses Karen’s soaring, soulful and melancholy vocals to convey either a hope-filled acknowledgment of current love or a sorrowful remembrance of love lost. The act features Karen Johns on vocals, Brook Sutton on upright bass, Bart Elliott on drums and percussion, Kevin Sanders on piano, and James Johns on guitar. Also performing on the CD are Jim Hoke on saxophone and clarinet, Mark Horwitz on flute and trombone, and Ben Graves on mandolin. “Karen Johns & Company have created music that has staying power,” said Butler Cain, news director for Alabama Public Radio in Tuscaloosa. “The entire work has purpose and meaning, and it invites us on a journey that’s worth taking at any season.” Karen and her cast of acclaimed musicians are emerging onto the Southern jazz scene in a big way. Since forming in 2004, the group has performed at popular venues and events including the City Lights & Stars Concert Series and the Jazz-N-June Festival in Huntsville; the Palette Gallery, the Tennessee Art League, and the Percy Priest Yacht Club in Nashville; the Main Street Festival and The Factory in Franklin, Tenn.; and a private party hosted by former Vice President Al Gore. The act has received airplay on jazz radio stations across the region, including WMOT-FM in Murfreesboro, Tenn., WJAB-FM in Huntsville, Ala., and Alabama Public Radio affiliates. “We are thrilled with the feedback we are receiving for Star and Season,” Karen added. “We had a wonderful time recording it with some of Nashville’s top musicians. Our goal was to record a project that inspires others to be thankful for the love they have in their lives, regardless of the season.” For Karen, singing and writing sultry, swinging jazz standards and originals is a soulful expression of her unusual and adventurous life. Raised in Alaska, the singer was privately and formally educated in acting, theatre performance, music, jazz dancing and modern ballet, graduating with honors from the Alaska Conservatory of Music. She studied voice under Gloria Marinacci, a retired Bella Donna for the Portland Opera and regional judge for the Metropolitan Opera. She later was named Alaska State Champion Actor for her work in theater. Karen gained more notoriety in 1986 when she was crowned Miss Lane County and then named Second Runner-Up to Miss Oregon in the Miss America Pageant, winning the talent scholarships. Shortly after moving to Nashville in 1991, Karen began working with acclaimed composer/conductor Stephen Melillo, singing lead vocals for I Never Had a Love Like You, a soundtrack ballad for the Miramax film Benefit of the Doubt, starring Donald Sutherland and Amy Irving. In 2002, the singer provided lead vocals for In the Stars, a song produced by Melillo for the symphony recording Beyond Courage. The recording, which debuted in New Mexico and Japan, commemorated the survivors of the Bataan Death March of World War II. In 2006, the act released its first traditional jazz album, Lucky Day, on the Ptarmigan Music/Jazz label. The CD includes the classic jazz standards Meditation and All About Ronnie, as well as jazz originals written by Karen and noted Nashville co-writers such as Lori Mechem, Justin Kessler, Joel Bolen, and Jim Hoke. Karen and her husband, James, are founders of Vital Force (ASCAP) publishing company in Nashville. They previously released several contemporary Christian albums on their own label, Isaiah 12 Records.

  • Williamson Herald, 2008, 2014, 2015, feature artist “All That Jazz”
  • Midweek X Press
  • Border Mail, Australia, #1 and #2 rated jazz artist
  • Huntsville Times, Alabama
  • Jazz Song Hit, Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  • Nashville City Paper Review
  • Huntsville Times, Alabama
  • Chronicle Press Review
  • The Sun Glade
  • Fairfield Glade Vista
  • Palace Theatre Publication
  • Tusk, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
  • Davidson A.M., Nashville, Tennessee Williamson A.M., Nashville, Tennessee