There can be no denying that Mem Shannon, a Crescent City cabby turned husky-voiced singer and guitar player, has strong chops and a keen sense of sonic heritage. But listening to his unfortunately named CD I'm From Phunkville, it occurs to me that something just isn't right.
A postulate: If you are a performing artist playing in a blues tradition, it's not cool to sing about the life and career of any golfer, including the undeniably great Tiger Woods. That should go without saying, but Shannon's big-band-inspired homage to the Tiger suggests that somebody should have mention this a long time ago. Maybe, just maybe, someone could get away with singing about the exploits of a hard-living, party-loving, borderline scofflaw like John Daly so long as the lyrics never mentioned little white balls or swinging clubs outside the context of gross metaphor. But even that would be pushing the limits of acceptable lyrical content. Golf may be the most popular waste of time in the history of avocation, but it's just not rock-and-roll. It's not barrelhouse blues, gutbucket raunch, soul, samba, honky-tonk, or any of the traditions reflected by Shannon's musical canon. So why on earth would an artist who can summon up the spirit of Professor Longhair and Dr. John and who occasionally channels the great Barry White commit such a dire sin and sing about the swing of a mild-mannered multimillionaire golfer? God only knows. But the band is hot, the bordello-style piano is all over the place, and Shannon's baritone is always easy on the ears. He's at Huey's Midtown on Sunday, March 27th.
As a borderline metal-basher (well nu-metal, anyway), I'm as surprised as anyone by the fact that I'm recommending Cephalic Carnage. After seeing the extraordinarily awful O.C. Smith-inspired posters for the show, my interest was piqued, and I had to give this creepy grindcore band one more chance. What I discovered was a band that was stoned but sophisticated. Their sound is meaty, beaty, big, and anything but bouncy, with guttural, horrorshow vocals and solos that manage to be jazzy yet satanic. If I were at all inclined toward what passes for metal these days, I'd hop on Cephalic Carnage's bandwagon when they play Zinnie's Full Moon Club on Thursday, March 24th.
Clem Snide started out playing a kind of chamber country: cello-enhanced hillbilly music designed for listening rather than dancing. They quickly evolved into one of the cleverest turn-of-the-century rock bands going, using a variety of offbeat instruments to augment an offbeat indie-rock sound and lyrics that are as personal as anything from Neutral Milk Hotel and as clever and hooky as Guided by Voices. Clem Snide is at the Hi-Tone on Thursday, March 24th.
Ian Moore is another alt-country cutup who has turned away from the rootsy path by mixing indie rock and folk in equal measures. Moore, whose soaring voice is a true marvel, has drawn comparisons to Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, and Jeff Buckley. He's at the Hi-Tone on Monday, March 28th.