J Shogren Shanghai’d: Strong-Arm Music with a Catawampus Sound
Songwriter. Banjoist. Vocalist. Guitarist. Nobel Peace Prize winner.
It's not your typical list of credits in a Bluegrass bio. But then, J Shogren is not your typical musician and Shanghai'd is not your typical group.
Shogren downplays the Nobel Prize aspect, though he was part of a prestigious group of scientists who shared the 2007 prize with Al Gore. He's the University of Wyoming's Stroock Professor of Natural Resource Conservation and Management (say THAT three times really fast) and has a deep research interest in environmental affairs.
When he's not studying the environment (and people's valiant efforts to save it), he plays in a band called J Shogren Shanghai'd. The unusual name, he says with tongue in cheek, "relates to my 'strong arm' technique of getting the best musicians in Wyoming to join the band."
The group's sound is distinctive as well. One critic calls it "Roots & folk music filtered through a contemporary dissonant transmitter"; another cites Shogren's "lived-in rasp of a voice."
Though the number of members varies by concert, the full ensemble is scheduled to perform at Beartrap: guitarists Jascha Herdt and John Wilhelm, bassist Mark Zieres, drummer Mike Krupp, and Shogren on vocals and guitar.
Their influences are "everything under the moon." If forced to name a favorite, though, their list ranges from Marty Robbins to The Band.
But according to critic Aaron Davis of Planet Jackson Hole, "Shogren's style is definitely singular--whether solo, duo, or with a larger ensemble. Shogren is like the distant, Wyoming-born cousin of quirky songster Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy.)" And the Scandinavian journal Rootsy observes, "A brilliant storyteller from Wyoming, whose hard-boiled, sometimes dark humorous stories are delivered with a voice that clearly has lived through them."
Other critics point out the eerie time-travel sense that the music gives off, saying that it sounds like "new music played on old radios." The journal Rambles comments, "He's funny, but the jokes are wry and subtle, drawn from a wide range of high and low cultural references. Like traditional music itself, Shogren's songs occupy their own other world."
As for Shogren's website, he designates the band's style as "catawampus"...a word chosen because, he says, "the term captures our free-wheeling style toward pulling together many musical styles and influences. I always think of it like an old truck driving down a dirt road with the windows open and dust bouncing off the back."