Hear It First - Charlie Parr, 'Stumpjumper'

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by Elena See for FolkAlley.com

In concert, he's unassuming: wandering onto the stage as if he has all the time in the world, and usually in a pair of ripped and dirty jeans a size and a half or so too large for his lanky frame. When he leans into the microphone, hunched over one of his amazing instruments, he talks to the audience as if they're all in on it - there are no secrets between Minnesota bluesman Charlie Parr and his fans...or maybe "friends" is a better word than fans - the intimacy Parr creates during a show is akin to friends getting together to make, and talk, about music. Once he pushes back from the mic, though, and starts to play, Charlie Parr is anything but unassuming.

Parr, a self-taught guitarist and banjo player, grew up surrounded by his music-loving father's vast collection of folk and blues records. He immersed himself in the sounds of Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, among others, and those influences are all very apparent in his newest recording, 'Stumpjumper.'

At the same time, however, 'Stumpjumper' is a bit of a departure for Charlie Parr. For one thing, it's the first album he'll release on his new label, Red House Records. For another, it's the first time Parr has recorded a solo album with a band and while at times his voice seems to be nearly overwhelmed by the additional instruments (perhaps a question of needing to be mic-ed a little closer?), the additional instrumentation ultimately serves as a nice foil to Parr's own unique guitar and banjo style. This is especially evident on the title track, which essentially serves as a sort of musical biography of Charlie Parr.

There's also a 7-plus minute retelling of the biblical story of Lazarus ("Resurrection"), a musical recreation of a conversation Parr overheard - a couple talking about what they didn't like about each other ("Evil Companion"), and some thoughts on getting older and watching how a family's dynamics shift ("Over the Red Cedar"). Charlie Parr, it seems, is inspired by anything and everything and, thankfully for the listener, he explains his inspirations in his liner notes.

Parr also shares the overarching theme of 'Stumpjumper,' which stems from a single song, the bluesy murder ballad "Delia." In preparation for the album, Parr spent hours listening to various versions of the song, letting the words and images roll around in his head until he came up with his own version of the story.

Charlie Parr fans needn't worry that his decision to sign with a label and his decision to record with a backing band will change him in any way. If nothing else, 'Stumpjumper' proves that Parr's a master musician, a craftsman utterly devoted to the task at hand, and adept at using his own unique style to create something that, although totally original, very clearly has its roots in the familiar.

'Stumpjumper' will be released via Red House Records on April 28 and is available for pre-order - HERE.

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