The Lineup

Charlie Parr

Duluth, Minn.

You could begin a biography of fingerpicking maestro Charlie Parr by mentioning recent collaborations with contemporaries like Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, the Black Twig Pickers or Trampled by Turtles. But it’s a more accurate reflection of his music’s heritage to begin with his otherworldly collaborations—like those with the late Charley Patton, Bukka White or Blind Willie Johnson.

Minnesota’s Parr is cut from the same vintage country-blues cloth as those American music legends. The self-taught Parr picked up his first guitar at age 7 and mastered the 12-string by playing along to old Arhoolie recordings of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb. Now, Parr’s just as competent on banjo, National steel or resonator six strings. Until his most recent releases, he shunned professional studios to field-record his music in the organic environs of empty storefronts, friends’ garages, old breweries, warehouse spaces, and living rooms.

Such makes dropping the needle on a Parr record like stepping back in time and surrendering to the hypnotic blend of droning bass notes and high-gauge string melodies that only the best blues players conjure. It’s like sifting through the narrative noise of modern detritus to the core of life and what Parr calls the “usual litany of human miseries and occasional joys: aging, death, loneliness, god, regret and even love.” It would be an exercise in nostalgia but for the fact that Parr fleshes out the 1920s rural music influences (ragtime, blues, gospel and folk) with tales from his job as a homeless outreach worker and other modern-day fare. In doing so, it proves, as do Parr’s nine full-lengths that you don’t have to reinvent wheels to get to the realest places on earth. —John Schacht