The blues world works at a different speed than that of pop and rock music, which often yields "one hit wonders" that are in their teens, pop stars that are washed-out and out-of-work by the time they reach 30 years old. In the blues world, however, it can take years, decades even for an artist to really hit their stride and then, once they do, they can keep a career going until the Reaper shouts out "last call," if they so choose. None of this "here today, gone tomorrow" stuff…when you're a bluesman (or woman); you're in it for life....
John Nemeth has been cranking out his own unique vision of soul-blues for better than a decade now, but it's really just been the last few years that he's been grabbing blues fans by the ears and making them pay attention. After apprenticing with Junior Watson and Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, Nemeth has honed his chops by adding his Chicago-styled harpwork to albums by folks like Elvin Bishop and Nappy Brown. As good as his first two Blind Pig Records releases have been – 2007's Magic Touch and 2009's Love Me Tonight – it's Nemeth's relentless touring and dynamic stage show that have him poised to become a major league blues star. With the release of Name The Day!, Nemeth has achieved a near-perfect fusion of soul and blues, and a great balance of smoky vocals and red-hot harp play.
John Nemeth's Name The Day!
Nemeth hits a hard lick right from jump street on Name The Day! with "Breakin' Free." A R&B style rave-up with big horns, big rhythms, and big vocals that rightly jump out of your speakers to kick you in the shins and get your feet a movin', Nemeth spices up the mix around two anna half minutes in with a leapfrogging harp solo that slips and slides in right next to the keys. The title track slows the tempo down a bit but doesn't crank down the voltage, if you know what I mean (and I think that you do!). Nemeth's vocals on "Name The Day" sizzle with soul while the band fans the flames with a slow-burning groove, guitarist Bobby Welsh laying down a snaky lead.
The gorgeously-constructed "Heartbreak With A Hammer" is a Chicago blues romp that would make Muddy Waters proud. As the band lays down a stylish, steady rhythm, the piano dances across the mix while Nemeth embroiders his harp atop the swinging groove. For a fan of blues harmonica, it doesn't get any better than this. The wonderfully mid-tempo "Tuff Girl" is a bit of throwback soul that has more in common with Otis Redding or Solomon Burke than any contemporary hits. With an undeniably infectious melodic hook, Welsh's Steve Cropper-styled guitar licks, and Austin deLone's spirited keyboard runs, the song is a reminder of a musically more innocent time.
Home In Your Heart
It's not just with "Tuff Girl" that Nemeth channels the heart and soul of the great Otis...the slow-tempo ballad "I Said Too Much," with its sparse, gospel-tinged arrangement provides a great showcase for Nemeth's enormous vocal range. From a whisper to a passionate roar, "I Said Too Much" is a beautiful example of Nemeth's vocal abilities as well as his songwriting skills. He steps outside the box for a raucous cover of Otis Blackwell's "Home In Your Heart," a song successfully wrangled by both Redding and the great Solomon Burke. With a spry six-string lick walking beneath his vocals, and blasting horns alongside, Nemeth delivers a powerful, albeit nuanced performance on the album's lone cover song.
While "Save A Little Love" is literally drenched in that sweet soul sound, the song's blues influences are highlighted by Nemeth's low key vocals and Welsh's taut guitar tones. Nemeth again takes the one and only Otis Redding as his template for "Why Not Me," a bluesy torch song that starts with a spark and builds to a raging bonfire. While the accompaniment is subtle – a little reverent keyboard riffing here, a bit of bleeting horn there, a stray guitar lick – it's Nemeth's strong vocals that lead this parade. Name The Day! closes out with "Funky Feelin'," another fine performance that downplays Nemeth's vocals in favor of his blazing harp, notes flying from your speakers as the band holds down a fat and, yes, funky groove so wide you could drive your car down it and park the sucker.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Simply put, there is nobody doing this sort of blue-eyed soul-blues stuff better or bolder than John Nemeth is right now. The man's songwriting continues to improve in both style and substance – Nemeth wrote ten of the eleven tracks on Name The Day!, his lyrics capturing love and heartbreak with the skill of the original R&B wordsmiths of the 1950s and '60s. But it's not just his songwriting that sets Nemeth apart from contemporaries like Tad Robinson or Curtis Salgado, but the marriage of his harp play with his vocals, which is more reminiscent of Little Walter and Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds than with most modern harp players.
The Reverend's bottom line: if you love Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Ray Charles, and all that great blues-influenced soul music of decades past, you owe it to yourself to check out Nemeth's Name The Day! A solid, inspired work from one of blue music's bright young stars, this should become Nemeth's breakout album, the artist a bona fide "overnight sensation" after only a decade or so...but then again, that's the blues way! (Blind Pig Records, released May 18, 2010)
Guide Disclosure: A review copy of this CD, DVD, or book was provided by the record label, publisher, or publicist. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.