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Folkadelphia Session: Charlie Parr

The description of Minnesota based musician Charlie Parr as “one man, one guitar, one foot in the grave” is pretty perfect. Stylistically, Parr plays a type of music that all but resides six feet under the ground; he’s a dying breed of self-taught musician that draws from early American roots, country blues, spirituals, and traditional. I like to think that Charlie hasn’t even heard any music from the last 50-75 years. Listening to Charlie conjures up the image of a long lost John and Alan Lomax field recording, or a hold-over from Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. Even when you see him perform live, the audience may hear phantom clicks-and-pops, the surface noice and scratchiness of an ancient 78, little wheel spin and spin, big wheel turn around and around. That’s just the vibe of Charlie Parr. Over the course of now twelve albums, including last year’s Hollandale, an instrumental record featuring Low‘s Alan Sparhawk, Parr continues to mine the depths, certainly not rob the graves, of authentic and original folk music.

While the style is timeless, the sounds are sepia-toned, and Parr himself is rather quiet and pensive, the songs are not like a specimen under a microscope or a box of records filed away for posterity in the stacks of the Library of Congress. The music is alive and breathing. In fact, Parr’s one foot in the grave may mean he’s trying to get out of that ditch, clawing and kicking, raging against physical and mental anguish and isolation of a wall of dirt (and a wall of dirt of the mind and spirit). You can hear it in the guitar picking, in the throaty dusty singing, and the vibrantly emotional feeling of the songs. This music has a heartbeat and it ain’t dead yet as long as Parr is around.

Charlie Parr recorded this album lengthened session at the WXPN Performance Studio on February 23rd, 2014 while he was in Philadelphia for a Folkadelphia presented show at Hubbub Coffee.

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Self-taught traditionalist Charlie Parr and Philly-bred harpist Gillian Grassie, tonight on Folkadelphia

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Charlie Parr is one of the most important contemporary American folk musicians that you probably know nothing about. Based in Minnesota where he also grew up, Parr taught himself guitar and banjo listening to folks like Charley Patton, Woody Guthrie, and Dock Boggs. His online biography is quite right when they say “he sounds like he would have fit right into Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.” Parr’s most recent records are Hollandale, an all instrumental record, produced and played on by Low‘s Alan Sparhawk, and Barnswallow, a live-to-tape album featuring traditional and originals.

Folkadelphia presents a concert with Charlie Parr, along with Philadelphia musicians Ryan Petrillo (of the Bailey Hounds) and Snagwing at HubBub Coffee (University City location) this Saturday, February 22nd. More information can be found here. Watch Parr perform “Motorcycle Blues”:

Also on this episode of Folkadelphia, we’ll premiere an excerpt from Berlin-based (but Philly at heart) harpist and singer-songwriter Gillian Grassie‘s Folkadelphia Session. Continue reading →

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