John Németh – May Be The Last Time
NOLA Blue Records – 2022
11 tracks; 47 minutes
In January 2022 John Németh was performing with his band on the Blues Cruise, a few weeks later I interviewed him for a UK blues magazine and he was on great form. Yet soon after that a routine dental examination revealed a benign but aggressive tumor in his jaw. The solution was specialized surgery in which part of John’s jaw was removed and bone grafts made to replace the damaged area. As John’s livelihood depends totally on the success of the operation, this has been an incredibly stressful time and everyone in the blues world wishes John the best for a full recovery. A few days before his surgery was due to take place, friends in the blues community invited John to record this disc, appropriately entitled May Be The Last Time (though we all sincerely hope that it is not). Recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studio in San José, CA, John was joined by Elvin Bishop on guitar and vocals, Bob Welsh on guitar and piano, Willy Jordan on percussion and vocals and Kid himself on bass and guitar. John is on harp and vocals and Alabama Mike joined in on some of the group vocals with Bob, Kid and Willy. The sessions took place on two days in May 2022, just before John’s surgery. The ensemble reprises three songs by Elvin and two by John, skillfully blended with six covers that range across blues, Rn’B, soul and gospel.
The album opens with the title track, a traditional gospel tune made famous by The Staples Singers and may well have been the inspiration for The Rolling Stones song of similar title; the harmonies are terrific as John testifies impressively and wails on the harp over downhome backing. Elvin’s “Rock Bottom” is more of a rocking blues shuffle with Bob’s piano featured behind John’s buzzing harp and a good electric solo from Elvin. John reprises the soulful “Sooner Or Later” from his 2014 album Memphis Grease, here played in mainly acoustic style, followed by JB Lenoir’s “Feeling Good” which has some great acoustic bass before the group harmonies come in to add a gospel feel. “Stealing Watermelons” is a second Elvin Bishop tune on which he sounds like he is having great fun on lead vocals, leaving John to play harp on a funky, largely acoustic version.
The old Falcons song “I Found A Love” has Willy’s higher range vocals in the lead, John and cohorts adding significantly to the chorus, a version that works really well. John then tackles Hank Ballard’s “Sexy Ways”, playing some tough harp on a short, rocking version, before tackling “Come On In This House”, the Mel London song most familiar from Junior Wells’ version, John’s growling vocals underpinned by Elvin’s slide and Bob’s piano. Another cut originally on Memphis Grease, “Elbows On The Wheel”, sounds like a relaxed studio jam, a sparse interpretation of John’s song about being on the road with mainly piano backing. The familiar Slim Harpo tune “Shake Your Hips” rattles along and obviously gives John the chance to blow some harp before the album closes with Elvin’s “I’ll Be Glad”, the core lyric of “I’ll be glad when I get my groove back” clearly being a reference to John’s surgery; more excellent choral vocals on this one.
This is a joyous album and it is great to know that the surgery went well. Let’s all look forward to when John is able to grace our stages again!
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