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Mem Shannon
 A Cab Driver's Blues, Hannibal CD HNCD 1387

 Welcome an authentic new blues voice

The album cover shows a cabbie leaning against the wall of a 24-hour po' boy and donut shop, playing a guitar. Mem Shannon's the real thing for sure: a New Orleans cabbie who is also a genuine bluesman. This is his first album, with the songs, fine singing, great guitar work and funky arrangements all by Mem. (After listening to this personal album, I figure I'm on a first-name basis.)

On an interview on National Public Radio, Mem said you only need three songs to survive on Bourbon Street, "Sweet Home Chicago," "Down Home Blues" and "Mustang Sally." Well, then, he's well ahead of the game with the fine songs here. "You Ain't Nothin' Nice" has the terrific refrain "You got me drunk as whiskey, I'm sweating so I'm wet like water, shakin' 'cause I'm cold as ice - oooh, baby, you ain't nothin' nice." This swings straight into the humorous "My Baby's Been Watching TV," about an Oprah fan whose fickle allegiance to the latest, umm, wisdom from the tube is driving her boyfriend nuts. "Me and My Bed" is about that night when you can't get to sleep because of a fight with your girl. You know Mem's been around when he sings "Now they told me, 'Mem, drink some milk if you want to sleep.' So I gave it a try; now I keep gettin' up to go pee." (If you're under forty, you may not appreciate that line as much as I do.)

The arrangements add a lot to the songs, with tasty sax and organ work filling in on most of the songs, to back up the solid guitar, bass and drums. I'll bet these guys have played together, and they generate a relaxed funk. Mem's playing reminds me a bit of Albert Collins' in its crisp clean sound, although he doesn't flash as much as Collins.

The strongest song is "One Hot Night," about being down and out and thinking about crossing the line, and talking about it with your buddies, and then taking that step that screws up your life forever. "But when it's hot outside and the rent is due and that little-bitty baby's depending on you, the wrong thing, it sure can cross your mind." This song features just Mem and his guitar, which makes the story even stronger.

By the way, half of the titles listed (the ones marked with a *) are not songs, but short recordings made in Mem's cab of conversations with customers. It's pretty easy to hear the inspiration for Mem's songs in these exchanges with a variety of New Orleans residents and crazed tourists. You can guess what the topics are (and what the language is like) from the titles, such as "$17.00 Brunette" or "Dick Tie Commandos." These tracks really add to the album's funky flavor.

Mem's theme song, and one that I expect will get some airplay, is "Taxicab Driver," where he complains about traffic cops, flat tires and the creeps and cheap bastards (mostly doctors and lawyers) who inhabit his cab's back seat. "If my luck ever changes, I'm going to quit this cab business someday." This album is certainly good enough to change his luck, and I surely hope it will happen so we can enjoy more of Mem's singing, guitar playing and song writing. --Glenn Brooks

production notes & song titles
Mem Shannon, guitars, vocals, harmonica, arrangements; Peter Carter, bass; Jackie Banks, organ, piano synths; Barry Thomas or Wilbert "Junk Yard Dog" Arnold, drums; Lance Ellis and/or Tim Green, tenor sax.

Produced, recorded and edited by Mark Bingham. Field recordings in a 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Custom 4-door sedan. Mastered by Mark Hood and John MacDonald. 1995 release. (54:26)

5th Ward Horseman* | Play the Guitar Son | $17.00 Brunette* | You Ain't Nothin' Nice | My Baby's Been Watching TV | Me and My Bed | Ode to Benny Hill* | Taxicab Driver | The Miserable Bastard* | One Hot Night | Dick Tie Commandos* | The Boogie Man | Maxine | The Older Broad* | Got to Go | Chantelle* | If This Ain't the Blues | Food Drink and Music*

more by Mem...
Mem Shannon's 2nd Blues Album, Hannibal CD HNCD 1409, 1997
Spend Some Time With Me, Shanachie CD 9013, 1999 (48:53)

Mem is now a full-time bluesman with three albums to his name. He is moving away from his guitar playing and putting more weight behind song-writing, for both better and worse. He hits his stride with Spend Some Time With Me, which is both ambitious (how many blues songs about slavery can you recall?) and successful, although less bluesy than his first album.

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