BOSTON — From the first emotive notes of his debut CD, "A Cab Driver's Blues," it's clear that Mem Shannon is bucking tradition. The musician's use of a classical guitar to begin "Play the Guitar, Son," a slow blues shuffle, gives fair warning that he has no intention of getting stuck in the past.
Shannon is a New Orleans-based blues singer whose original songwriting is a driving force as blues head for the next century. Powered by a syncopated New Orleans funk, he has finally stopped the meter on his cab after 15 years and taken his show on the road. After a summer of national touring, he heads for Europe this month.
When his father died unexpectedly in 1981, Shannon used his father's Buick Le Sabre and a connection through his mother's church friend to begin driving a taxi. Turning his back on music, he did what he needed to do to support his family. But the music didn't go away. By 1990, he was playing again and carrying a guitar in his cab.
"A Cab Driver's Blues" includes snippets of conversation recorded in Shannon's cab. We get a glimpse of the seamy side of New Orleans in his customers' comments and destinations. But more important, we witness Shannon's unflappable and nonjudgmental treatment of his fares. We hear a man who is able to meet people where they are and accept them without giving up any of his own integrity. And between these segments we hear a good man playing good music.