Memphis In The Morning
Shanachie Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/26/2001
Mem Shannon, at first glance, is more likely to be a character in a Jimmy Buffett novel than an actual musician. Anyone who became a bluesman after quitting life as a New Orleans cab driver is going to seem a little larger than life.
This is most probably a good thing, given that Shannon's voice and talent are pretty larger than life things. This CD, Shannon's fourth, was the first one recorded outside his home town of New Orleans; this time, he rolled on up the river to Memphis and historic Ardent Studios, a location that has seen everyone from B.B. King and Bob Dylan to 3 Doors Down lay down new tracks. Shannon says in his liner notes that it was weird to be so far from home, to not be able to call up his Crescent City buddies and polish up a track or two. If this is weird, give me more of it. Memphis In The Morning is a delight.
The first thing you notice is Shannon's voice; rich, deep, and expressive, a Mississippi River of expression. He's fond of twists of language in his music, and he handles the precise phrasing and diction needed for songs like that with delicacy and proficiency. His guitar playing is a lot like B.B. King, which is no surprise given that Shannon counts King as his greatest influence. The production on the CD is excellent, crystal clear and unmuddled; Shanachie may have started out life as a reggae label, but more and more it's obvious that they're putting out some pretty damn fine sounding blues as well.
"So," I hear the DV Faithful asking, "pretty language, Duke. But is it any good? Does it capture the essential experience of the blues? Does it, in a nutshell, kick out the jams?" And I can answer, proudly, "Yep". Memphis In The Morning is a fine, fine collection of blues music.
Tracks of note include the hilariously funny "S.U.V." (nominee for Line Of The Year: "I'm sick of these SOBs, they're driving these SUVs,..."), a great cover of B.B. King's "Why I Sing The Blues", the wistful "Tired Arms", "You Belong To Him", "Unconditional Love" (which sounds a lot like a lost Barry White tune), and the infectious "Shake Up The Floor". There's no miscues on the CD, in and of itself a rarity; Shannon may have been on the road, but he hit a home run while he was there.
Memphis In The Morning is an excellent album of electric blues, and fans of the genre should grab it up immediately.