John Németh — big band singer.
And why not? He’s covered just about every bluesy style from old-school Chicago to heart-wrenching soul to thoroughly greasified funk ‘n’ stuff.
What makes it all sound so good is that he doesn’t just cover the music, he creates it, after filtering it through his finely tuned musical sensibilities honed as a young man growing up in Boise, Idaho, not normally known as fertile soil for the blues.
To be fair, this isn’t the first pairing of Németh with the very fine Love Light Orchestra. They recorded a set at Bar DKDC in Memphis in 2017 that crackled with all the electric enthusiasm that a live show generates.
Now they’ve released this excellent studio recording, and it’s still electric. This group (you can find its impressive membership list at the end of this post) is big-band sound at its best. It stomps, it swings, it jumps with style and substance from the opening bars to its final echoes. And when you wrap this glistening sound around Németh’s stunning vocals, the result is a magical visit to a musical era that once defined the shape of American music.
The music itself is almost all original, composed by Németh or guitarist Joe Restivo or arranger/ trumpeter Marc Franklin. And the thing is, they’ve created new music that reflects all the great qualities of the original, performed to perfection. And the one cover they do, the scorching blues of “3 O’Clock Blues” by Lowell Fulson, fits right in.
But the most notable work here might well be from Németh himself, who hoses away most of that funky grease to reveal pipes that sparkle and shine with the essence of the big-band shouter.
From the swinging opening notes of the first track, Restivo’s “Time Is Fading Fast,” Németh’s vocals open up with a richness, depth and soulfulness usually associated with the likes of Jimmy Rushing or Big Joe Turner. Fast company, for sure, but John sounds like he was born into this family. “Come On Moon” by Németh swings up next, soaring on the wings of a pulsating Love Light rhythm section. “Give Me A Break” by Franklin follows, driven by the punchy riffs of the band’s razor-sharp horns.
There are seven more fabulous tracks here, each one a minor masterpiece of vocal prowess and musical invention by masters of their craft. I could tell you how much I like each one by name, but then you would just have more stuff to read before you get to listen to this music.
So yeah, I love this album. It’s damn fine music; some of the most enjoyable I’ve heard in a long time.
By the way, Bobby “Blue” Bland’s 1961 hit “Turn On Your Love Light,” was the inspiration for Restivo and Franklin giving the band its name.
Here’s “Come On Moon”:
Tracklist and credits
· John Németh – 2-time Blues Music Award winner and 23-time nominee; soul blues vocalist, songwriter, harmonica player and international touring artist.
· Joe Restivo – international recording and touring artist with the Bo-Keys; jazz DJ on WEVL, performed regularly with Mose Vinson (RIP) and Charlie Wood,
· Marc Franklin – co-founder of The Bo-Keys, arranger, and trumpet player; (session artist for Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, William Bell, Booker T & The MGs; performed with Bobby “Blue” Bland, Gregg Allman).
· Paul McKinney – trumpeter and member of Memphis R&B Allstars,
· Jason Yasinksy – trombonist on both albums,
· Art Edmaiston – international performing saxophone player (Bobby “Blue” Bland, Levon Helm, William Bell, Hi Rhythm Section, Jason Isbell, The Bo-Keys, Dr. John, The Allman Brothers Band).
· Kirk Smothers – international performing saxophone player (The Bo-Keys, Buddy Guy, Don Bryant, Jason Isbell, Vaneese Thomas).
· Tim Goodwin (RIP) – University of Memphis Professor Emeritus, recipient of Memphis Chapter NARAS’s Premier Bassist Award (2002).
· Matthew Wilson – international touring artist (Nick Moss Band, John Paul Keith, The Blue Dreamers),
· Gerald Stephens – U of Memphis masters in piano performance; professor of Jazz Piano at Rhodes College; 20+ year Memphis area performer.
· Earl Lowe – U of Memphis alum; drummer on both albums.
· Al Gamble – Hammond B3 organist and pianist (The Bo-Keys, Marc Broussard, John Paul Keith, St. Paul and The Broken Bones) (NOT BAND MEMBER).
· Scott Thompson – GRAMMY-winning trumpet player (Robert Cray, Otis Rush); U of Memphis masters in jazz pedagogy; session and touring artist (Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Rufus Thomas) (NOT BAND MEMBER).