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John Nemeth's debut CD for the Blind Pig label, Magic Touch, reinforces what the people of the Pacific Northwest have known for years: as an emerging young artist, he is someone to watch. On twelve stellar tracks, only three of which are covers, the singer/harmonicist demonstrates beyond doubt that he has the chops to command attention and deserves the accolades he has received.
He was Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets' featured artist for 2005 and 2006, no small feat since Funderburg has partnered for twenty years with Sam Myers, a musician who made an indelible imprint on the music business. Nemeth played with the Junior Watson Band in 2002; the Cascade Blues Association selecting him as a crowd favorite at that year's Portland Waterfront Blues Festival. The Washington Blues Society called him the show stealer at the 2003 Winthrop Rhythm and Blues Festival.
How has he attracted this attention? Vocally, John Nemeth has a trained voice that is soulful without being affected or imitative, as he demonstrates from the opening rework of Jr. Wells' "The Blues Hit Big Town. With consistent timbre and tone that sounds as though he is channeling the late Wells, his soulfulness becomes apparent. His performance of "Blue Broadway is reminiscent of old school rhythm and blues, while the slower-paced mournful wail of "Sit and Cry the Blues is as convincing as anything on the disc. When he belts out "She's Looking Good, he sounds as rich as Big Joe Turner or any of the early blues shouters.
Nemeth plays the harmonica with a welcome old school approach. Whereas many of his contemporaries feel compelled to squeeze as many notes into each measure as possible, Nemeth's well-toned harmonica work is deliberately measured and complimentary. Realizing that a pause can be as important as the notes he plays, Nemeth makes each note work for him. Magic Touch is not an all blues harp CD, but the tracks on which he plays are worth waiting for. He has the chops to take Jr. Wells songs like "The Blues Hit Big Town and make them his own. He employs harmonica techniques such as tongue trilling on the Latin flavored closing track, "Come On, and doesn't miss a beat.
As a songwriter he demonstrates an ability to craft a lyric that suits the music and vice versa that is better than that of many of his peers. It isn't easy to write good lyrics, but Nemeth demonstrates he has a real flair, an unusual skill in this department.
Gifted with this much talent, and getting this kind of recognition at an early age, it's certain that Nemeth has a long and successful career ahead of him. A genuine triple threat, John Nemeth truly has the Magic Touch.
Track Listing: Blues Hit Big Town; Blue Broadway; Magic Touch; My Future; She's Looking Good; She's Looking Good; She Did Not Show; You're An Angel; Sit and Cry The Blues; You Were Wrong; Let Me Hold You; Up to No Good; Come On.
Personnel: John Nemeth: vocals, harmonica; Anson Funderburgh: guitar (10); Junior Watson: guitar; Ronnie James Webber: Fender bass; Eric Przygocki: acoustic bass; John Calhoun Street: piano, organ; Wes Starr: percussion; Mark Kazinoff: tenor and baritone saxophone; John Mills: tenor and baritone saxophone; Al Gomez: trumpet.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.