John Nemeth: Magic Touch (Blind Pig)

nemethSo how does a blond-haired kid from Idaho mature into one of today’s hot new blues artists? According to the 30-year-old John Nemeth, he bought his first harp years ago because it was a whole lot more affordable than a guitar and amp. Blues harp fans everywhere ought to celebrate this. Blessed with a remarkably powerful, soul-inflected voice and formidable old-school harp chops, Nemeth is forging what should be a productive recording and performing career. He’s quite the performer too. Part ham, affable guy, and burning groove master, Nemeth is totally at home onstage. At a recent gig at Salem, Oregon’s Lefty’s (one of the West Coast’s and perhaps the nation’s premier blues clubs) accompanying guitarist Frank “Paris Slim” Goldwasser’s amp blew a few minutes into the first set. Backed only by ex-Thunderbirds drummer Jimi Bott and a bassist, Nemeth took the house on a half-hour-plus guitar-free harp-dominated joyride. Things further heated up upon the arrival of a replacement amp.

Nemeth’s style is firmly entrenched in the Jr. Wells/Little Walter school of harp. His expertise, exuberance, and genuine soul make for a very fulfilling live or recorded experience. This brings us to his new mojo-driven release, Magic Touch. Nemeth self-effacingly explains that the source of his powerful singing stems from his younger days singing in church. “They didn’t have microphones, so you really had to project.” And project he does, in a style combining Stax/Volt era R&B excitement with Chicago blues. Nemeth covers a number of classic Chicago tunes, including doing justice to Jr. Wells’ “Blues Hit Big Town” and Willie Dixon’s smoldering “Sit and Cry Blues.” Seven of the twelve tracks are penned by him, revealing strong songwriting as well. His horn-charted soul burner “Blue Broadway” is a perfect example of his R&B side. West Coast blues guitar magician Junior Watson presides on most selections; Texas axeman and “Magic Touch” producer Anson Funderburgh steps in on the ballad “Let Me Hold You.” Austin’s Texas Horns provide saxes and trumpet.

His captivating live performance and the fine Magic Touch reveal John Nemeth as a refreshing and restorative shot in the arm for the blues. - Tali Madden

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Mr. Madden escaped New York a few decades ago, and still misses his egg creams. Aside from a brief flirtation with the Desert Southwest, he's been damply ensconced for half his life in Portland, Oregon. The freelance writer has written extensively on blues and jazz for outlets including the late Blues Access magazine, contributed to the MusicHound Blues and Jazz album guides, and produced and programmed jazz broadcasts for public radio.

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