Utah’s Wry Minstrel

By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers ’86 / January / February 2003
June 22nd, 2007
Olympvs Rex and Other Greek Tragedies in Utah by the Sons-in-Law of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, including Ken Shaw ’84 (Spinout, www.spinoutrecords.com, $14).

One benefit of cheap recording technology and shoestring independent labels is that musicians without a commercial bone in their body can make and release high-quality CDs. Which means we get to hear a CD like Olympvs Rex, a sharp-witted and subversive collection of songs about—take note, Britney and Eminem—the culture and politics of Utah.

The wise guy behind the Sons-in-Law of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers is Ken Shaw ’84, a Utah high school science teacher and wicked folk-music satirist. Even if you’ve never heard a Utah native creatively avoiding four-letter words, you’re bound to crack up at “What the Fetchin’ Heck” (“So now you’re leavin’ / Fine, where do I sign the flippin’ check you’ll be receiving?”). And you don’t have to live next to Idaho to appreciate “The Waltz of the Aryan Nations,” complete with cheesy German accent.

Musically, the Sons-in-Law play lean acoustic arrangements in the style of Dust Bowl ballads and contemporary folk rock. Shaw sings a little like roots rocker Peter Case, and Rex Flinner adds some nice fiddling and mandolin picking. But the words carry the day, and Shaw finds some novel subjects, from “The War on Bugs” (“I’ve heard it before about the natural law that says, ‘All species have a right to exist’ / Well, something sneaky tells me that some bug came up with this”) to “Park City Parking” (“A mining town chewed up by greed / They’re making a film about it”) to a modest proposal to “kick the L out of the BLM” in honor of the agency’s policies allowing cattle-grazing on public lands. Every community should be so lucky as to have a resident satirist as funny and fearless as this.

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers is completing a book on singer-songwriters.
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January / February 2003