Mem Shannon & the Membership | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mem Shannon & the Membership 

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Singer-guitarist Mem Shannon worked as a New Orleans cabdriver for 15 years before he released his 1995 debut, A Cab Driver's Blues, which wove his somber musings with recordings of the drunken tourists and down-and-out streetwalkers he encountered while on the job. He's continued to cultivate an image as a brooding blues poet since then, but his meditations on life, love, and loss haven't always meshed with the good-time funk on subsequent albums. On his new CD, I'm From Phunkville (NorthernBlues), he melds medium-boil fatback blues with New Orleans street-parade brass, but the songs lack the menace that marks the best work by Crescent City funksters like the Meters, and Shannon's lyrics border on trite. (On "I'll Kiss a Pitbull," he promises to "eat my weight in peas for some of your love.") But his deep-chested, stentorian baritone convincingly blends power and vulnerability, and on guitar he shrewdly intersperses swirling arpeggios and dense note clusters with fiercely punctuated single-string declamations; depending on the situation, he can sound like he's standing his ground or ready to flee. Sat 3/26, 9:30 PM, House of Blues Back Porch Stage, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000, $10.

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