Mem Shannon, the New Orleans cab driver turned blues singer, is the artistic heir of Willie Dixon and Percy Mayfield. These two dead giants didn't see the blues as an excuse for guitar noodling or party anthems. Dixon and Mayfield were juke-joint philosophers who used their well-honed skepticism and their playful word skills to comment sharply on American society and human nature. Shannon has done the same thing on "Spend Some Time With Me."
Shannon opens the new album with "Who Are They," a challenge to all sorts of received wisdom. "They say everything's looking real good," he sings, "well, they must have forgot to check my neighborhood . . . They say age ain't nothing but a number; well, I guess a pickle ain't nothing but an old cucumber." He betrays a similar irreverence toward the so-called blues revival ("Paying My Dues"), the so-called improvement in race relations ("Millennium Blues") and so-called Christians who gossip ("Dirty Dishes").
Yet he also illuminates how repeated nagging can represent a "Mother's Love" and how stunning his woman looks when she wears "A Certain Shade of Blue." Robert Cray's producer, Dennis Walker, helps Shannon fashion a clever blend of Snooks Eaglin's Louisiana blues and Bill Withers's soul-music monologues. The resulting album draws you in with its rocking melodies and reminds you that the blues can still have something to say.
Appearing Wednesday at Lewie's. To hear a free Sound Bite from Mem Shannon, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8128. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)