Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album of blues and soul that carries an extra poignancy knowing the circumstances. This May Be The Last Time…I fervently hope it’s not but, should it prove to be, it’s a remarkable swan-song. When John does make his comeback, it presents a problem for him…top this one John!
I feel sad yet privileged to listen to John Németh’s latest work…privileged because he is such a talent: as I said about his last solo album, Stronger Than Strong, “his tenor voice lends itself to the soulful as well as the blues, and his harp work is always a joy.” The sadness is because, in John’s own words, “I recorded this album before my jaw amputation surgery, which took place in late May. It’s called May Be The Last Time because I didn’t know then and I still don’t know, if I will ever sing or play again like I used to. I have to say the magic of this performance is beyond this world and maybe the greatest of my life.” (John has been diagnosed with “ameloblastoma – a benign, aggressive tumor in the lower jaw. It required immediate and very specialised surgery, including a bone graft to regenerate the bone in my jaw which had to be removed.”)
This album, and a gofundme page, is to help support John through this very difficult time and, with the unwavering support of his fellow musicians and fans across the globe, I think and hope that John will be back in the studio next year showing us all how to overcome such devastating adversity…know this John: we at Bluesdoodles and your UK fans have all appendages crossed and wish you the very best. Get well soon and continue making quality blues.
Moving on to the music, and you’d never know of the cloud that hung over the recording…it is fuelled by enjoyment from every musician and that fun is transferred effortlessly to the listener. Especially when the first track, The Last Time, is a joyful update of The Staple Singers via The Stones version of the gospel song…John takes some liberties with the lyrics to make this huge fun despite the clear, honest message. His voice and harp are spot on and the quality of the band is indisputable…just listen to the harp solo and the superb, layered backing of the walking bass and percussion.
Rock Bottom is, you’ll be pleased to hear, the 1972 Elvin Bishop Band song and not Lindsey De Paul and Mike Moran’s Eurovision entry (although Mike did contribute to Ian Gillan’s return to the business on Child In Time.) A great r’n’b based romp with that down at heel storyline blurred by the clever backing and an another good harp solo giving way to a cleverly picked guitar solo that plays mercilessly with the melodies. Sooner or Later first appeared on John’s Memphis Grease album and gets a nice, looser and simple update without losing the original’s feel. The bass is genius as John pours soul into the blues and the guitar duet is a short delight.
Feeling Good is from JB Lenoir in 1966: the gospel feel is kept and even enhanced as the vocals are spot on and the bass is more Kid cleverness and the subtle guitar is perfect. Stealin’ Watermelons is another Elvin song from his 1974 album, Let It Flow and, wisely perhaps to keep the essence of the original, Elvin takes lead vocal as the band utilise some lovely slide and washboard like percussion as John honks the harp and Elvin recreates his performance brilliantly on a song that, then and now, exudes the swampiness of its roots.
I Found a Love is a duet with Willy Jordan as the pair take on the Wilson Picket soul classic from 1962 when he was a member of The Falcons. The way they capture the feel, the cliches and time of the original is remarkable and, although too soulful for me, the bass and guitar backing is first class and the slide guitar solo is worth listening out for. Sexy Ways is a 1954 Hank Ballard song (with The Midnights) although perhaps the Jerry Lee Lewis or Gene Vincent versions may be more familiar…very evo- and pro- vocative for its day and it has to hold the record for the most times ‘wiggle’ is included in a lyric! The original is respected whilst the backing and harp work show originality in its interpretation.
Come On in This House is a Junior Wells song from 1960 (covered by Elvin in ’91) and is bluesy soul with more superb performances from the whole team and John does a great vocal reading and, natch, a great harp solo. Elbows on the Wheel is the second Memphis Grease song: a road song by any definition although not a driving style to be recommended. It starts off sounding like a group of friends in a bar, gathering around the piano, picking up their instruments and having a blast…it continues that way too as the ‘real job’ versus musician tale unfolds via a superb slide solo, a crafty harp solo and then a geography lesson of towns and States before heading to the far east and Shanghai (and punningly, Shanglow) and Japan! Great fun. Shake Your Hips features Willy Jordan playing the cajon…this Peruvian ‘drum’ has a real voice and looks like a large audio speaker without the cones or wiring that you can sit on and create many and varied percussive sounds. It is effective in giving this Slim Harpo number from 1965, a new feel and the upright bass is spot on. I suggest that John may have listened to The Stones’ version too…and neatly replaces Slim Harpo’s name check with his own. A great reading of a great song with more lovely harp and guitar.
The final track, I’ll Be Glad is another Elvin Bishop song and a co-write with Bobby Cochran that is given a fresh feel courtesy of the lyrics full of humour and turning bad to good, all this over a bouncing, irresistible backing with excellent guitar/harp interplay enlivening it still further.
All in all then, this is an album of blues and soul that carries an extra poignancy knowing the circumstances. This May Be The Last Time…I fervently hope it’s not but, should it prove to be, it’s a remarkable swan-song.
The Last Time
Sooner or Later
I Found a Love
Come On in This House
Elbows on the Wheel
Shake Your Hips
I’ll Be Glad
John Németh: vocals, harmonica
Kid Andersen: guitars, upright bass
Elvin Bishop: vocals, guitar
Bob Welsh: guitar, piano
Willy Jordan: cajon, percussion, vocals
Alabama Mike: vocals
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(iTunes delivered a lot more John Németh, but I couldn’t resist letting it run on to a different John…A lesser known blues pianist called John Oscar and his 1930 song, Whoopee Mama Blues. Typical 30s humour, double entendre and standard blues structures, but lovely too.)