Dublin, D, IE
Date and Time
Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013 at 9:00pm
Charlie Parr $89pm showtimeCharlie Parr:http://www.charlieparr.com/Many people play roots music, but few modern musicians live those roots likeMinnesota's Charlie Parr. Recording since the earliest days of the 21st century, Parr'sheartfelt and plaintive original folk blues and traditional spirituals don't strive forauthenticity: They are authentic.It's the music of a self-taught guitarist and banjo player who grew up without a TV butwith his dad's recordings of America's musical founding fathers, including Charley Pattonand Lightnin' Hopkins, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. With his long scraggly hair, fathertimebeard, thrift-store workingman's flannel and jeans, and emphatic, throaty voice, Parrlooks and sounds like he would have fit right into Harry Smith's "Anthology of AmericanFolk Music."Parr uses three instruments, not including his own stomping foot. He got an 1890 banjothe first time he heard Dock Boggs. "I don't do claw hammer, I don't do Scruggs-style,it's just a version of me trying to play like Dock Boggs, I guess," Parr says.He has two Nationals, a 12-string and a Resonator, which became an obsession whenParr saw a picture of Son House playing it. "The first time I got my paws on one, I wentinto debt to buy it," he says. "Nationals are fun because they are as much mechanical asinstrumental, you can take them apart and put them back together again." On anoverseas tour, the neck of the Resonator broke in baggage: he played the guitar byshimming the neck inside the body with popsicle sticks. "It solidifies your relationshipwith the instrument so much: It's as much part of you as anything else."Most of his recordings, including Roustabout (2008), Jubilee (2007), Rooster (2005),King Earl (2004), 1922 (2002) and Criminals and Sinners (2001) eschew typical studiosettings. He has recorded in warehouses, garages, basements and storefronts, usuallyon vintage equipment, which gives his work the historic feel of field recordings. It's notbecause he wants to sound like he was discovered 75 years ago by Alan Lomax; it'sbecause most modern recording studios make the reticent and self-effacing Parr feeluncomfortable. He often works with engineer and mastering master Tom Herbers ofThird Ear Studios in Minneapolis to give his recordings true fidelity no matter what theformat, from mp3 to 180 gram vinyl to whatever is in between. Yet his music sounds sotimeless that you half wonder if there's not a scratchy Paramount 78 of Charlie Parrsinging and strumming somewhere.His inspiration is drawn from the alternately fertile and frozen soil of Minnesota. Parrgrew up in the Hormel company city of Austin, Minnesota (population 25,000) wheremost of the world's favorite tinned meat, Spam, is still manufactured. And he hasn'tmoved far, drawing sustenance from the surprisingly large, thriving and mutuallysupportive music scene of Duluth: Parr's 2011 album of traditional songs, Keep YourHands on the Plow features locals including Charlie's wife, Emily Parr; old-timeybanjo/fiddle band Four Mile Portage; and Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of therenowned alternative rock band Low.The combination of industrial meat factory where both of his parents worked proud unionjobs, set in a largely rural environment, had a broad impact on Parr. "Every morningyou'd hear the [factory] whistles blow, when I was a kid they had the stockyards andanimals there, so you were surrounded by this atmosphere," Parr says. "My mom anddad would come home from work, their smocks would be covered by paprika and gore."But out the back door were soybean fields, as far as they eye could see. "As a kid Ithought it was kind of boring, but now I go and visit my mom and I think it's the mostbeautiful landscape there is."What leisure time was available was spent at an uncle's farm a few miles away inHollandale, where Charlie would pick the potatoes and other crops that would feed theirfamilies. Charlie's father and uncle would buy whole cows from a local cattle farm. Thefamily rarely ate Spam.Parr shows the same resourcefulness on the road, averaging 3 or 4 shows a week, yearround. To stay in traveling shape, he eats home-prepared meals such as spicy lentilcurry, black bean chili and mix vegetables that cook on the manifold of his van while hedrives. "It's a good heat source and it's handy—25 miles on the manifold will cook aboutanything you want."To many, Parr is considered a regional artist, which is another way of saying he doesn'tlike to travel far from his family's Depression era roots. "From Cleveland to Seattle anddown to San Francisco and back is my area," he says, though the focus isunquestionably Minnesota and the Northern Plains. Yet he's built a big enough audiencein both Ireland and Australia to tour both regularly. He's had especially good fortuneDown Under, where his "1922 Blues" was used as the counterintuitive music behind aVodafone mobile commercial and became a viral and radio success. Three of his songsadded atmospheric resonance to the 2010 Australian western "Red Hill." On his lasttour, his fourth of that continent, he was a guest DJ for three hours on a Melbourne rootsmusic radio station, on which he played songs from his own mix CD. "The newest thingon it was some Bukka White recordings from the 1940s," Parr says with someincredulity. "People were calling all morning to say how much they like the music."Quiet, thoughtful and humble, Parr has made two albums of spirituals, and a fewtraditional songs of the hard life and the hereafter are always in his live sets. Such musicisn't necessarily rooted in the Methodist church in which he grew up: "It was more like,let's get the service over quick so we can get downstairs and drink coffee and have pie!"But faith, though undefined, underlines all of Charlie's music, both in the listening, thecovering, the writing and performing."When you listen to Charley Patton playing something like 'Prayer of Death,' way overand above it just being a 'Charley Patton' song, or a 'spiritual' song, it's one of the mostbeautiful and haunting pieces of music you'll ever hear in your life. You can't quite putyour thumb on it, you just want to do something like that so much...I don't think I everhave, but it's a weird, visceral thing. Any time I get a song like that right, I get kind of thatweird feeling, you know?"—Wayne Robins, April 2012Wayne Robins has been writing about music since the 1960s, and lives in New York.