Fifteen years as a cab driver in New Orleans gave Mem Shannon the experience that he needed to communicate effectively with his audience. He's gathered a common ground selection of songs for this latest album so that he can relate to folks from both sides of the tracks: those who've grown up with the "Big Easy" jazz tradition, and those who've grown up with blues-rock ringing consistently in their earphones.
Gospel plays a large part in Shannon's delivery. It's natural. He delivers a fiery sermon on "Ignant Stick," warning about the hazards of living by fraudulent means. "No Religion" contains a message for all mankind about the need for help from society and from within. Elsewhere, his guitar shines brightly with fluid lines, lyrical instrumental conversation, and seamless phrasing. Shannon carries the Deep South blues torch through his searing vocals and his fiery guitar.
Much of the session, however, tends to roll on uneventfully. Except for a seven-minute cover of "Eleanor Rigby," the program consists of Shannon's originals. Each offers a message for spiritual communion, but each dwells on its theme repeatedly without variation. Horns, organ, and Shannon's guitar provide a rich landscape that surrounds the singer with enveloping halos.
"Phunkville," like most of the session, resists the temptation to dig into the heart of the matter. While it does stand out as the album's high point, this R&B selection persists for ten minutes with a repeating theme. It mesmerizes. Shannon gives you an opportunity to relax a while and to unload some of that tension that's accumulated during the day. As our local taxi driver always says, "Lighten up, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride."
Personnel: Mem Shannon- guitars, vocals; Robert Dabon- keyboards; Doug Belote, Josh Milligan- drums; Ian Michael- bass; Billy Martin- percussion; Tyrone Pollard- background vocals; Jason Mingledorff- tenor saxophone, clarinet; Frederick Sheppard- tenor saxophone; A.C. Gayden, Jr.- guitar on "Battle Ground;" Barney Floyd- trumpet; Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews- trombone on "Perfect World."