Until recently I never contemplated reviewing albums that weren’t the newest on the market, but I found myself in a situation where I needed to prepare myself for a review on an artist with whom I had very little familiarity. John Németh is coming to Richmond’s Tin Pan on Wednesday, April 6 and I am scheduled to review the show.
Even though I had heard of Németh, I didn’t have any of his music and I wanted to learn more before I checked him out live. You may not believe it, but the Professor does like to have a little preparation before writing about an artist.
This wasn’t a problem for the good folks at Blue Corn Records who sent me a copy of Németh’s 2013 release MEMPHIS GREASE and I am glad they did. He is a blue eyed soul singer of the top variety and not a bad harp player either. He has a refreshing approach to the music and a definite love and admiration of the Southern approach.
He obviously didn’t learn that from his home state of Idaho.
Nothing against The Gem State, but it is not well-known for its contributions to the world of blues, soul, and rhythm and blues. But thanks to Németh’s efforts, that just might change.
Every so often I mention the album’s producer, but rarely extol their virtues. That’s a bad habit of mine that I need to break, because it is very often the producer who helps the artist translate his or her ideas into their eventual sound. Here, Németh is lucky enough to work with producer Scott Bomar, composer of film scores for Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan as well as producing Cyndi Lauper’s Memphis Blues.
With an artist like Bomar twisting the knobs, Németh needed to assemble a good backing band. That’s where The Bo-Keys come in. Besides working with Bonar of a frequent basis, they have backed a veritable who’s who of soul and blues music and can create a beautiful sound. Regular listeners of Time For The Blues might even recognize the name of background vocalist Percy Wiggins, who at one time recorded for Goldwax, that little label that had good talent but couldn’t escape the shadow of the better known STAX.
The members of The Bo-Keys include Howard Grimes drums; Bomar himself Fender bass and percussion; Al Gamble keyboards and backing vocals; Joe Restivo guitar; Marc Franklin trumpets and horn arrangements; Kirk Smothers tenor sax; Art Edmaiston baritone sax; and joining Wiggins on background vocals are Susan Marshall, Reba Russell, Christopher Barnes, Calvin Barnes, and Courtney Barnes.
There’s a baker’s dozen of songs on the album, and Németh wrote all but three of them: Otis Rush’s Three Times A Fool, Howard Tate’s Stop, and Roy Orbison’s Crying.
The song list for MEMPHIS GREASE is as follows:
Rush’s Three Times A Fool gets things started with a solid wall of STAX sounding rhythms and Németh’s soulful voice. It’s evident that we are in good steady hands and that this promises to be a good album. Listen for Németh’s harp break, the man’s got talent!
Next up is the jaunty Sooner Or Later, that kind of has a light almost beach music vibe and some very nice lyrics. The Muscle Shoals sound is nicely captured here. This one would have gotten a lot of AM Radio airplay in the ‘60’s.
A strong harp and horn attack opens up Her Good Lovin’, before Németh’s vocals take over and the tempo slows down. This one has that Memphis sound blended with a little reggae approach. The resulting sound is pretty good and it definitely makes you sit up and take notice.
The full horn section gets a workout on Stop and Németh’s vocals are very much in that early STAX sound. His high notes rock and he’s got the funky tempo down pat. This is a very good interpretation of the well-known song. And the guitar rocks hard on the break.
Another Németh original, If It Ain’t Broke, is a tender soulful ballad that hits you in the heart. This is one of those great songs where you can just picture the singer holding onto the microphone and pouring out his emotions. Love this song.
A funky backbeat takes us into I Can’t Help Myself, and the horn section quickly takes over the song. It’s that jump swing boogie that gets you moving around the dance floor. This is a great show piece and must be a crowd pleaser.
Not many people would tackle Roy Orbison’s immortal masterpiece, Crying, but Németh not only takes it on, but he delivers a unique performance that is very good. His vocal approach is softer, more languid, but is still in that very soulful vein. It’s quite lovely.
After the quiet power of Crying, Németh moves back into solid blues territory with My Baby’s Gone. His voice growls and snarls and his harp punctuates the song with short almost violent bursts. This is a song of pure heartbreak and the lyrics are stripped down to reflect that pain.
The doo-wop sounding Testify My Love is next and the vocal harmony is very nice. The gospel influence is evident in his voice and the rhythm of the bass and drums. The background vocals are low and slow provide a canvas for Németh’s voice to soar when it needs to. It’s an old fashioned number that just about everybody should appreciate.
The harp brings us into Bad Luck Is My Name and is joined by the horn section. This is another song that is in pure blues territory and the kind of number that I could have heard any of the greats taking on and adding it to their repertoire. It has an exciting sound to it and makes good use of Németh’s harp.
The blues keep on rolling with Keep The Love A Comin’ and Németh’s harp keeps getting a workout. His vocals are strong, and there is an optimism to the song. It’s almost like he has moved through the darkest times and has not come out a little into the light.
He also keeps it light for the next song, Elbows On The Wheel. It’s the story of the musician who hasn’t quite made it enough to satisfy his woman and who wants him to get that dreaded day job. Been there, done that. Hey John, if you play this well, keep that night job will ya?
Németh ends the album with the beautiful ballad I Wish I Was Home. It’s a sentiment most of us have felt from time to time, no matter if it was a long held home, or a recent one made up of like-minded friends, home is that place we all want to be. It’s a gorgeous song and a great way to bring this lovely album to a close.
Now that I’ve had a chance to listen to this artist, I can’t wait to catch him live at The Tin Pan. Doing a bit more research, I see that he won the 2015 Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues for this album, and after listening to it, I can honestly say I agree with his well-deserved victory.
I don’t much about his tour schedule, but you can find out a heck of a lot more about him, and even order any of his seven albums. I’ll be picking up some at the show – you know he’s got to have some, and I’ll be sharing them soon on Time For The Blues.
If you can’t wait, make sure to drop by http://johnnemeth.com/ and get your hands on some sweet soul sounds now. And if you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, may I suggest that you type in http://www.tinpanrva.com/ on your computer and get them right away? I don’t know how many tickets are left, but I would hate to miss John Németh any time he comes through.
(Pictures of John Németh artfully removed from his website. Photo along the train tracks by Aubrey Edwards and used by permission.)