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Johnnyswim: Ring the bells

The lyrics in Johnnyswim's debut album, "Diamonds," read like a married couple's diary from a tour bus. The folk-pop duo's songs are shot through with reflections on relationship woes, the death of parents and the difficulty of building a music career. But "Diamonds" also chronicles a journey that began in Nashville in 2005, when Abner Ramirez met Amanda Sudano at one of his performances.

At the time, he recalls in a phone interview, Ramirez was feeling vulnerable, having been recently "burned by a record label" and believing that "I didn't have the stomach for music anymore."

"She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, and when she asked if we could write together, all I was thinking was, 'How can I be alone with her, so we can go make out or something?' " Ramirez says with a laugh, speaking from a roadside outside Columbus, Ohio. "And when I realized we sounded good harmonizing together, even louder alarm bells went off in my head."

"Diamonds," which follows a handful of singles and EPs, is filled with the type of harmonies that triggered those bells. In the uptempo title track, Ramirez and Sudano liken themselves to "diamonds rising up out the dust," their voices intertwining over an insistent, pounding piano.

Johnnyswim will perform Sunday night in the Mary N. Porter Riverview Ballroom, part of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts' Huizenga Pavilion expansion. The show also marks a return to the duo's home state. Before Johnnyswim, Ramirez, whose extended Cuban family lives in Little Havana and Hialeah, trained as a classical violinist at Jacksonville's Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, which often competed in state championships in Broward County. Sudano, meanwhile, spent summers in Naples with her family.

The subject of family appears on other tracks from "Diamonds," such as "Trouble," in which both singers make an oblique nod to the losses they struggled through while on tour: the death of Ramirez's father and the death of Sudano's mother, disco singer Donna Summer.

"We were dealing with the same feelings of loss and feelings of angst and how the relationships changed in our families. It felt like we lost these two towers, the signposts to our life," Sudano says. "Especially in the angrier songs, it felt a lot easier just to write in a relationship format than to just write about confronting death itself."

For the past year, Ramirez says they have toured relentlessly, and that their time spent writing and composing music together on the road has helped to strengthen their marriage.

"We go on constant adventures together, which adds to our onstage chemistry, and to the lyrics that we write," Ramirez says. "Every song is in some ways a battle, and we're on the same team. Amanda likes to describe it as an archaeological expedition, like finding an artifact. You don't get in there with a drill. You excavate delicately under the dirt, and finding a song is like that. Our marriage is stronger because of that."

Johnnyswim will perform 8 p.m. Sunday, July 27, in the Huizenga Pavilion at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-462-0222 or go to

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