Country-blues artist Charlie Parr isn’t just from Duluth, Minnesota, he’s from another time. Parr’s 12-string, National steel, fretless banjo, and especially his high, searing vocals spring more from the heat of Southeastern blues than they do from the chilly shores of Lake Superior. His transplanted roots aren’t without precedent, as his career developed in parallel to the bluegrass of Trampled By Turtles and old-timey fiddle tunes of Four Mile Portage, and his Minnesota upbringing was itself quite rural. But there’s an edginess to his work that’s even more primordial and other-worldly, and his string riffs often repeat in idiosyncratic patterns that are hypnotic and spiritual. The recording quality is modern, but his expression has the impromptu feel of field recordings.
Parr often lives the itinerant road life of his blues ancestors, reportedly even cooking on his engine manifold. He ventured to North Carolina to collaborate on these sessions with Megafun’s Phil Cook, recording his first album outside of Minnesota, and his first with a full band. The piano, bass and drums provide Parr an opportunity to stray from his double duty as both percussionist and melodist, but he still finds plenty of space to double down on his usual syncopation. His assembled band mates tune Parr’s rhythmic grooves, providing a natural extension of his solo style, and Nick Peterson’s production highlights individual instrumental voices within the interlocking mash of fiddle, banjo, bass, acoustic, electric, steel-, 6- and 12-string guitars.
Parr’s more of a storyteller than an autobiographer, though he leverages both talents here. His stories include mean breakups, meditations on aging and fatalistic views of changing times. He draws upon long-held beliefs with the revengeful hymn “Empty Out Your Pockets,” and twists personal experiences into the fantastical “On Marrying a Woman With an Uncontrollable Temper.” Parr recounts more than he performs; the difference is subtle, but adds a sense of authenticity to his first-person narratives, whether personal, like the album’s title track, or historical, such as the captivity narrative of “Falcon.” The album closes with a cover of the murder ballad “Delia,” adding a heartfelt link to the interpretive chain of folk music. Parr is an old soul, but as the vitality of his music proves, soul never really gets old. [©2015 Hyperbolium]