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John Nemeth, Blues Live and Soul Live

Album Review


Memphis, Tenn. resident and Boise native John Nemeth has a pair of new live albums out: Blues Live and Soul Live. Guess what's on both of them? That's right, blues and soul, recorded live.

If you aren't familiar with Nemeth's work, he's a Boise-born growler who looks sharp in a dark suit and can play a mean harmonica. Nemeth's greasy, Chicago-style electric sound comes out in force on the albums, with bluesy and soulful tunes to set the dance floor a-jiggling.

It's clear from both albums that Nemeth has studied at the school of Stax and Chess Records, taking special interest in the throaty cooing of Wilson Pickett on tracks like "Love Me Tonight" and "Fuel for Your Fire" from Soul Live.

But the Blues Live disc is the better of the two, feeling more authentic and dynamic, and less dependent on simple, major chord repetitions. The crunch on Nemeth's vocals is another added feature on the blues disc. And it sounds like it was a helluva dance party to record.

But for all the growl, croon and hum that Nemeth has down pat, there's something missing.

The formulaic styles of blues and soul lend themselves well to tradition, with songs and themes developing in small ways over generations of performers. The nuances a musician brings to a tune sets his or her version apart: the single-note vibrato of B.B. King, the screaming tone of Stevie Ray Vaughan, or the sound of Nietzsche's abyss in Amy Winehouse's voice.

And though Nemeth is a skilled imitator--the two discs have garnered five Blue Music Award nominations so far--it's hard to pin down his unique contributions to the style.

To be blunt, Blues Live and Soul Live seem suitably generic titles for the discs--like plain cardboard spice jars labeled "salt" in large black letters. Proficient as they are, the records sound exactly like what they are called: blues and soul, served live. No more, no less.