Turn up the volume, light a cigarette and pour yourself a whisky. Not that we condone such nefarious activity but it seems like the perfect accompaniment to this live disc recorded at the historic, Tipitina’s Uptown in New Orleans. Whisky or no, prepare to be captivated by Mem Shannon’s passionate and skilled musicianship, sure to incite a rush of aural goose bumps in the soberest of listeners. When Mem asks, what’s that funky smell on “Smell Something”, our best guess (apart from the obvious) is the smell of his fingertips getting singed by his hot guitar licks.
A contemporary bluesman, Mem Shannon has a knack for blending traditional blues riffs with rock’n’roll, funk, gospel and a trace of hip hop. Live, A Night at Tipitina’s offers a signature selection of songs highlighting his wide-ranging musical influences. There are many joyful moments on the disc, but the pièce-de-resistance has to be the melancholy “All I Have”. It’s a heart-wrenching love song about Mem’s ravaged hometown of New Orleans. The former taxi driver’s guitar and voice are pain-filled as he recounts the small details of the city he continues to love. It’s raw and it’s real, and draws a clever metaphor of the things we miss most in lost loves: life’s minutiae – the domestic stuff that remains so meaningful and most memorable.
In post-Katrina New Orleans, there are plenty of reasons to sing the blues and the style has taken on a whole new authenticity as a result of the calamity caused by the lethal hurricane. But an optimist will see the beauty that has emerged from that tragedy. It’s in the music and hearts of the spirited people and artists who remain in the city. A cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”, is an excellent choice expressing their determination to rebuild, renew and move on. Supported by a top-notch band, the Membership, Mem’s live performance is powerful, convincing and genuine.
By Anne-Marie Brugger
Nov 1, 2007