Tuesday, February 17, 2009

J Shogren - American Holly


I don’t usually quote from press sheets in my reviews, but consider the following, about J Shogren:

“His adventures have taken him from days as a trapper to an endowed professor.
He splits his time between Wyoming and Sweden, where he worked last year- unlikely
as it sounds - as the King’s Professor. Even more riotous, he was a party to the Nobel
Peace Prize as a member of the United Nations Team working on climate change.”

Now, one possibility is that somebody is pulling our leg here. This story is audacious, if so, and demonstrates a wild imagination. On the other hand, what if it’s all true? To live such a life would require a different kind of wild imagination.

Whatever the case, on the evidence of Shogren’s album American Holly, I can confirm the wild imagination. This is a mostly acoustic affair, but the arrangements include jug, euphonium, trombone, resonator, and accordion on various tracks. The lyrics of Relativity link the battle of the sexes to a famous scientific theory. And Hand Grenade is a dead-on spoof of the songs kids are made to sing in bible camps.

The overall sound of the music tends to confirm the part in Shogren’s bio that states that he used to be a trapper. This sounds like music made by a man who lived for some time in a cabin in the Wyoming mountains, cut off from society and from a radio, with only a boombox, a stack of folk and acoustic blues CDs with some Southern gospel and old-time country thrown in, a stack of batteries, and an acoustic guitar for company.

There are two other times I can remember when a singer’s voice prompted in me the same reaction I had when I first heard J Shogren’s. Those were when I first heard Randy Newman and Leon Redbone. I had to keep looking at the album cover to assure myself that the singer was indeed white. Shogren’s voice sounds like one of those great bluesmen from ninety years ago. He also sounds like a gruffer version of Randy Newman.

Most of the time, Shogren’s guitar plating does not call attention to itself; rather, it serves the song, playing only what is needed. But, when you do notice it, you find that Shogren can really play. I have included She’s With Me in this post, because it includes some of those moments which display Shogren’s prowess.

I talked about the wild imagination on display in some of the lyrics. The finest example of this is God’s 9:05, in which John Henry and Casey Jones meet the devil. This one gets added to my list of great train songs.

I do have a couple of quibbles. The title track American Holly opens the album, and is kind of a drone. The vocal melody is the least interesting one on display here. And, as much as I love Hand Grenade, the song does not fit in with the rest of the album.

I have provided a purchase link to get the album from CDBaby. You can also name your price, and obtain individual tracks on J Shogren’s website. Whatever you choose, make sure that J Shogren gets paid. No matter what else he does with his time, I want him to be encouraged to make more of this wonderful music.

J Shogren: She‘s With Me

J Shogren: God‘s 9:05