Mem Shannon
Mem Shannon's 2nd Blues Album
Hannibal 1409
Mem Shannon, the singing cab driver from New Orleans, is back with the follow-up to his widely acclaimed first release. While A Cab Driver's Blues interspersed actual conversations with fares in between the music, this one is all business -- 11 songs, primarily observations about injustice and poverty in contemporary America. Shannon is clearly putting his lyrics first.

That's a shame, because his guitar playing is so clear and fluid, so pretty, that one longs for more of it. On most songs, the guitar solo comes right at the end and barely gets started before the fade-out begins. Whether Shannon and producer Mark Bingham didn't trust his guitar playing or didn't wish to distract from the words is unknown, but their decision takes the axe right out of his hands. When we do get to hear him play -- at the end of "Wrong People in Charge" and "Old Men," for example -- it's a delight. That's why "Down Broke" is so successful: Shannon accompanies himself on acoustic and electric guitars, mixing folk and jazz the whole way through. An entire record of this would be a kick.

The lack of guitar is particularly noticeable in relation to Shannon's singing. A deep baritone, Shannon has an easy-going, conversational style that never displays great power or emotion. And despite having been born in (and writing a song about) the Crescent City's Charity Hospital, there is nothing distinctly New Orleans about his music -- it could have come from any city in America. I liked the guitar work, but there's not enough of it to make me enjoy Shannon's second album.

-- David Feld

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Boulder, CO, USA.