Charlie Parr Explores New Material and Minnesota Classics on Eponymous New Recording (ALBUM REVIEW)

Minnesota folk-blues artist Charlie Parr entered the studio to record both new songs and newer versions of his classic songs. This might otherwise be rather insignificant except that this came after a freak accident lass than a year ago that forced him how to relearn how to play the guitar. This had him taking a new perspective on some of the songs he’d previously recorded. This, in Parr style, is raw and intimate and more than simply a solo guitar album. Parr plays his signature resonator guitar and 12-string with co-producer Liz Draper on bass, longtime cohort Mikkel Beckmen on percussion, Jeff Mitchell on electric guitar, accordion, organ, backing vocals, and Dave Hundrieser on harmonica.

So, about that accident. While skateboarding with his daughter along Lake Superior, he hit the pavement. His right shoulder was fractured in pieces and his ability to play guitar again was seriously in question for some time. Yet, because his life’s work is essentially defined by stellar guitar playing, eventually he found his way back. He underwent surgery that left him with a metal plate and eight pins holding his reconstructed shoulder together. Within days, as soon as he could tabletop his guitar across his lap, he was playing again. Three weeks later he returned to the stage for a live radio broadcast.

This is not to say it’s the same for Parr as it was prior to the accident. Parr indicates that he’s not interested in “careerism.” He says, “Part of the effect of the accident was reaffirming of what’s really important to me. That’s not a music career. It’s just making music. That’s what count the most – having pure motives and loving intention.” He is reinvigorated, reflecting on his past songs and different aspects of his life. He knows that songs he recorded over twenty years ago were born from a mind vastly different than his current outlook.

Parr is a unique voice. One doesn’t have to look further than some of his song titles. He opens with “Love Is an Unraveling Bird’s Nest” and follows with a “To a Scrapyard Bus Stop.” “On Stealing a Sailboat is a new song, a cautionary tale about choosing one’s friends wisely. It’s good to know Parr’s sense of humor remains intact. “Cheap Wine” is a new recording of an old audience favorite. Like the best of Par’s story songs, this is a sinister narrative sung from the point of view of a liquor store owner with a dark secret, who’s starting to lose it. The plotline was originally intended for a novel that Parr abandoned, choosing instead to use the material for song ideas.

Any mention of Minnesota and folk-blues in the same breath suggests Spider John Koerner, obviously an idol of Parr’s. It’s not surprising then to find a Koerner cover included and Parr does Koerner proud with “Running, Jumping, Standing Still.” There’s just something about these Minnesota folk-blues guys. They have the talking blues down whether it be Koerner, Parr or Hibbing’s favorite son, Dylan.  Also, there are a few moments on the disc, when the harmonica is added that evoke the famous Twin City blues trio of Koerner, Glover and Ray. Another cover is “Twenty-five Forty-one” by the late Grant Hart, one-third of the seminal Twin Cities punk rock band Husker Du. It’s rendered with full instrumentation, but Parr acolytes likely favor even more his sublime guitar playing on the preceding “Heavy” or his fleet fingerpicking on “Jubilee.”

It’s almost hard to believe that Parr has released 13 albums prior to this one. It’s significant that he made this one self-titled, as if it serves as a re-introduction or marking point so that it becomes a platform for another 13 albums or more. His vocals are certainly more forceful here than on some of the earlier recordings. With the old and new Charlie Parr sounds as good as he ever has. Pull up a chair and listen to his deft picking and subtle accompaniment. When you hear him live, he will more than likely be alone which will be just fine too. \

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One Response

  1. fun fact: Charlie has recorded two Dylan covers. “Blind Willie McTell” and “Highway 61 Revisited” with Alan Sparhawk and The Black Eyed Snakes

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