John Németh ‘Memphis grease’ (Blue Corn Music) 4/5

John-NémethVocalist and harmonica player John Németh spent much of the 1980s listening to Chicago blues, and taking in some of the all-time greats (including possibly Syl Johnson and almost certainly the southern soul-blues influence of Bobby Bland) has clearly done him a power of good. Possessing a deeply soulful voice, Németh has come up with album in the old-school Memphis tradition that owes a nod to the Hi label (drummer Henry Grimes was a staple musician there), the grittier side of 1960s Atlantic soul from the Muscle Shoals era with punchy horns (could background vocalist Percy Wiggins be any relation to the great Spencer Wiggins?) and the early period of Stax. All but three songs are originals and they stand up in their own right with ‘I can’t help myself’ the pick of a tasty bunch, propelled by soulful keyboards and horns and featuring a lovely guitar solo. Hitting an equally soulful groove and a definite contender for a single release is ‘Sooner or later’ while for balladry the laid back interpretation of ‘If it ain’t broke’ is an emotional ride. Gospel hues emerge on ‘Testify my love’ and gritty soul returns on ‘Her good lovin’. Of the standards revisited, Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ is the most inventive and given a slower soul-blues treatment with some intricate guitar work. Only on the uptempo stormer ‘My baby’s gone’ does Németh really step into blues-rock territory and even then it is a pretext for him to ad-lib on harmonica.

Unquestionably one of the strongest new soul-blues releases of the year and fans of classic soul will be in their element here too.

Tim Stenhouse