By Mike O’Cull
Blues Music Award-winning vocalist and harp player John Nemeth takes on a career and life-threatening medical condition with the power of music on his new release May Be The Last Time.
Out September 16th, 2022 on Nola Blue Records, the intention behind it makes it much more than just another new album. Nemeth, a powerfully expressive singer and harmonica player, was recently diagnosed with an ameloblastoma, a benign but aggressive tumor in his jaw that required extensive and expensive surgery. In addition, he received a successful stem cell transfer. Thankfully, Nemeth is doing well.
How did John respond to it all? He made the best album of his career before going under the knife.
A crew of Nemeth’s close friends, who just happen to be world-class blues musicians, figured the best therapy for his soul was to hunker down in a recording studio with him and do what they’ve always done: make music. The sessions were coordinated by award-winning guitarist Kid Andersen, who hosted the proceedings at his Greaseland Studios in California.
West Coast musicians and living legends Elvin Bishop and his Big Fun Trio (Bob Welsh and Willy Jordan) and Alabama Mike also jumped at the chance to track with Nemeth. They spent two days together this past May before Nemeth’s surgery, recording new material and old favorites in a freewheeling manner that turned into a new, 11-song album that speaks volumes about catharsis and brotherhood.
Nemeth’s party starts with its title track “The Last Time.” It’s a traditional Gospel number that’s been recorded by The Staple Singers and many others. Nemeth fills it with joy and life, changing the lyrics when needed to fit what he was feeling. The spiritual energy it contains is beyond measure, even while John is acknowledging that this might actually be the last time they all sing together. This sort of real-life bravery is exactly what the blues is all about: the indomitable soul of a True Believer. It’s an amazing moment that sounds like it was captured as it happened, which is what makes it so special. There’s no way to fake something like this.
Nemeth and his mighty studio band head deep into the blues on a cover of Elvin Bishop’s 1972 burner “Rock Bottom.” The vibe on this one is fast, loose, and lowdown. Nemeth blows the harp like he means business and the rhythm section swings hard and tight. No question about it, these guys can play.
Kid Andersen rocks the doghouse bass on an especially cool version of J.B. Lenoir’s 1966 social statement “Feelin’ Good.” The song is as relevant today as the day it came out and makes a strong choice to be included on the record. The one and only Elvin Bishop steps up to the vocal mic and leads the band through his swamped-out ramble “Stealin’ Watermelons.” Bishop’s voice and guitar style are unmistakable and his love for doing this thing of ours shines through everything he does.
Every moment of May Be The Last Time is special and meaningful due the mountain of love and emotion that drives every tune presented here. The players blend their talents seamlessly in real time, making the art they dedicated their lives to mastering seem loose and offhand. It’s the best-possible thing Nemeth’s friends could do to show him support and the experience of listening to it is overwhelming. Get it.
Order link for May Be The Last Time Here