KUMD Album Review: Charlie Parr

Nov 1, 2019

Credit Charlie Parr

Charlie Parr is back and better than ever with his new eponymous album that features both new writing and old crowd favorites. Released on September 27th, 2019 by Red House Records, Charlie Parr is his thirteenth album. The folk-blues artist is Minnesota born and raised and has spent much of his music career right here in Duluth. The album consists of mostly Parr on his classic 12-string and resonator guitar, but also features co-producer Liz Draper on bass, Mikkel Beckmen on percussion, Dave Hundrieser (aka “Brother Dave”) on harmonica, and Jeff Mitchell on electric guitar, accordion, organ, and backing vocals.

Less than a year ago Parr shattered his shoulder on Lake Superior shores in a skateboarding accident, bringing his guitar-playing to a screeching halt. Eight pins, a metal plate, and three weeks later, though, and Parr was back at it again, relearning the instruments he has written music on for the past twenty years. The musical reckoning forced Parr to reflect on his songwriting career; he slows down, creating some new songs, but also revisits past hits and covers old tracks that have inspired him. Parr says, “Part of the effect of the accident was reaffirming of what’s really important to me…having pure motives and loving intention.”

There are numerous new songs in the album, including the first track “Love is an Unraveling Bird’s Nest” which sets a meandering, reflective tone. With this initial track Parr tells the audience that we’re going to take a stroll down memory lane in this album, and to stop to smell the roses. The third track, “On Stealing a Sailboat” is also a freshly written tune and features Parr’s deft fingerpicking that supports both the tempo and his characteristic folk-blues lyrics about adventures on a walk-turned marine vessel theft. He playfully describes the song as, “a cautionary tale about choosing your friends wisely.”

Parr also covers songs from a few of his long-time inspirations. The fifth track “Running, Jumping, Standing Still” is Parr’s rendition of the song by another Minnesota-raised folk-blues artist, Spider John Koerner. He preserves the tempo of the original but instead of leading drums and peppy piano, Parr brings in Brother Dave on harmonica to deliver a folksy performance worthy of the Blues Brothers. Parr also covers “Twenty-five Forty-one” by the late Grant Hart, a member of Twin Cities group Hüsker Dü, blending in the band’s heavy punk-rock influence with punctuated guitar and forceful vocals.

Parr revisits some of his old hits but with a fresh outlook and new life experiences, saying his songs “grow and evolve right along with the rest of me.” For example, “Cheap Wine” is the last track of the album and features powerful, driving vocals that do his wandering lyrics and dancing guitar justice. The folk-blues artist has taken this album as a chance to reflect on a career of songwriting and set in stone the progress that both he and his songs have made.

In this eponymous album. One of Duluth’s favorite local performers proves that throughout his past, present, and future, Charlie Parr will be doing what he loves: nimble guitar playing and soulful songwriting.