“I recorded this album before my jaw amputation surgery, which took place in late May. It’s called “May Be The Last Time” because I didn’t know then and I still don’t know, if I will ever sing or play again like I used to. I have to say the magic of this performance is beyond this world and maybe the greatest of my life.” — John Németh
John is correct. There is a magic about this album that you can feel in every track. In the passionate vocals, in the sparkling musicality — the joyous spirit of life that infuses the entire session.
It’s ironic that all this musical pleasure is rooted deep in the unfortunate circumstance of a medical condition known as ameloblastoma (a benign but aggressive tumor in the jaw) in John’s Jaw, as he’s whimsically called it in his GoFundMe campaign to help raise funds for treatment. But that’s typical of the blues — music that can turn bad luck into good times.
John makes the opening and title track, “The Last Time,” a personal statement. He reworks the classic gospel tune, already handily reworked by the Staple Singers and the Rolling Stones, as an enthusiastic counterpoint to the poignancy of his predicament.
Elvin Bishop is one of John’s guests here, and they combine on “Rock Bottom,” a Bishop song from 1972. “Sooner or Later” is a Németh original, from his “Memphis Grease” album, and the first taste here of his considerable songwriting skills. “Feeling Good” reaches back to 1966 and J.B. Lenoir with a tough bass line.
Bishop not only contributes another song, 1974’s “Stealin’ Watermelons,” but handles the vocals, perhaps to give John’s Jaw a little rest. “I Found a Love” is a stunningly soulful duet with Willy Jordan and a splendid take on Wilson Pickett’s 1962 chestnut.
One of my favorite tracks, since it is one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite R&B groups, is the salaciously delicious “Sexy Ways,” from Hank Ballard and the Midnighters in 1954.
One of John’s earliest influences was Junior Wells, and his rendition of 1960’s “Come On in This House” is steamy and soulful, with magical harp work. “Elbows on the Wheel” is another John original from “Memphis Grease.” If you listen closely, there’s a throwback reference to “Junior’s Hoodoo Man.”
“Shake Your Hips” is vintage Slim Harpo from 1965, and John gives his voice and harp a workout.
Notice the trend here: John has picked older songs to cover with the classic feel that has been his musical trademark since he stormed out of Boise, Idaho, with his harp and a fine sense of older blues and soul that had been his sweet inspiration.
The closer is “I’ll Be Glad,” another Bishop song with chunky rhythms and a raucous old-timey feel, and a message appropriate for the motivation behind this excellent album: “I’ll be glad when I get my groove back again.”
So yes, John is right. This is a great album. Filled with wonderful music, expertly done by John and the Kid Anderson (who also produced) studio band, plus friends. John’s vocals are their usual potent self, his harp work razor-sharp. If musicians can be loose and tight at the same time, here’s how. It’s also filled with the enthusiasm and spirit generated by fine music.
And yes, I love this album. You should, too. It just may be John’s greatest.
Read about John’s surgical journey here on the American Blues Scene.
Read about the Go Fund John’s Jaw effort here.
Here’s the title track:
Track list and credits:
As a sign of John’s sometimes whimsical approach to his surgery, here’s an illustration from the album cover. My only question is, “Where are the shades, man?