Wednesday, March 23, 2011

John Nemeth's Triumphant return to the Pacific NW

by Robert Horn 

Years ago I heard a kid from Idaho sing near Winthrop Washington, and I wrote about it. I wrote that either he must be one of the best vocalists around, or that was a performance of a lifetime, or both. A little while later someone from Blind Pig Records caught his act and when he was signed by Blind Pig (they have signed many of the great blues legends) they said that "never before have we signed an artist based on one performance, but that was not a normal performance." I don't know many other blues musicians that have accomplished so much before turning 40.

Name The Day!I need to apologize to readers for something. All this time, since those things happened, I have underestimated John Nemeth. He is now in the same league as the legends mentioned in the same sentence as BB King, Luther Allison, Charlie Musselwhite,...etc. In 2008 he got the Rising Star Award among other awards. Last year he got the Living Blues Award for Most Outstanding Blues Singer. His latest CD, Name The Day!, has already gotten him nominated for Best Traditional Blues Act and Best Blues Recording.

John Nemeth and his amazing band performed at the Highway 99 Blues Club in Seattle on Saturday, March 19. When he thought he was done, the packed building was on their feet demanding multiple encores. You don't see that very often at Highway 99, but I saw it that night.

If you have not seen him perform in a couple years, and catch a 3 hour show of his now, you may not have heard any of the songs ever before. He has written a ton of new stuff. Often when you hear a favorite musicians' new stuff you can be disappointed and think it isn't as good as their early stuff. I loved Nemeth's early stuff a lot but something happened that doesn't happen really often: I thought the new stuff was better than anything I had heard him do before. His performance on March 19th was the best performance I have seen him do. If a performer can do his best performance (better than all previous ones) almost every time he performs, then there is something pretty special going on. He is young, and his best work is in the future. NPR did a special about him called: John Nemeth: Soul From a Different Era (Click here to listen to the NPR special).

Yes he is young, but his band is a lot younger. His rhythm section has been with him a few years even though they don't look old enough to get in a bar. The bass player has hollywood good looks and a crowd of young women who were about 21 years old gave him a lot of flirtatious looks from the dance floor. The new member of the band is A.C. Miles and people should write down that name. He is a guitar player that really surprised me. As soon as he began, I wondered how a 60 year old black man was inside that 25 year old white boys' body. I can't really compare his style to anyone: a few crossed my mind, like Luther Allison and other greats but this kid has his own style. He was not copying anyone. He got a lot of applause anytime he did a little solo. This band has a good chance of being one of the really great ones.

John's CD's sold to the crowd that stood in line for a long time to buy what he brought. The new CD, like 5 before it, contained original stuff better than the stuff before. What an amazing show. His recordings are good, but he is one of those artists whose live show is far better than any recording of it. His vocal range hits octaves that perhaps only dogs are aware of, but he can sing as a baritone when he thinks it is appropriate as well. There are reasons he wins awards for being the best blues singer. But many mainly talk about him as the great harmonica player. He did things with harmonicas that still have me baffled: how can a human breath in and out that fast. On one song he not only played harmonica faster than I have ever heard it played but sang the song like an auctioneer speaking. I only picked out a few words like "boogie, boogie, with me..."

If you can't see him live anytime soon, do the next best think and get his latest record.


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