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Artist of the Month: Charlie Parr

by Walt Dizzo

October 01, 2013

This year, we’ll be spotlighting a prominent Minnesota musician or band each month with our new Artist of the Month feature. You’ll be able to hear a variety of songs from throughout the artists’ career on both the Local Current stream and the Local Show, and you can read more about the artists’ history and their role in the community right here on the Local Current Blog. Our local artist of the month for October is Charlie Parr.

About Charlie Parr:

In the newly released documentary Meeting Charlie Parr, music critic Wayne Robins paints a perfect picture, describing the singer/songwriter as “a timeless kind of guy” who “doesn’t seem to be part of any particular decade.”

Charlie Parr didn’t get discovered on a televised singing contest. He didn’t have a YouTube video go viral. Charlie doesn’t employ a stylist and he’s not likely to be a cover model anytime soon. Yet, Charlie Parr is a popular guy. He has a devoted fan base throughout the Midwest, not to mention a dedicated following in Australia and the United Kingdom. He sells records around the world, and he’s done so by being himself. Never has the label of a man’s musical style (traditional, authentic) ever seemed so apt a descriptor for the man himself.

Born and raised in the company town of Austin, Minn., Parr, like so many of us, was introduced to music through his father. Eager to play the country, folk, and blues tunes he was listening to at home, Parr’s father gifted him his first guitar, a 12-string, at the age of seven. A completely self-taught player, Parr is still writing and performing on a 12-string but he’s also added a fretless banjo to the arsenal and, of course, the resonator guitars he’s probably best known for playing today.

Despite playing since such an early age, Parr didn’t really start writing his own songs until well into his late 20’s. It was the death of his father in 1998 that led Parr to grieve in a way in which felt natural—by writing music. Parr’s original compositions are some of the most beloved on his nightly set list. The stories told through Parr’s songs often reflect the lives of those on the outside of society, and these tales frequently fit those traditional blues themes of religion, poverty, family, and death.

His songs tell stories and those stories tell us about ourselves. Parr’s early occupation as a homeless outreach worker, as well as his philosophy degree from Augsburg College, influence and inform his songwriting. There are moral lessons communicated in his songs; lessons learned by Parr from folks with whom we may not normally have taken the time to listen.

Recording and releasing 10 solo albums in just over 10 years, Charlie Parr has consistently put out records that sound like Charlie Parr. No fancy studio effects. Just solid recordings of the man doing what he does best. This effect has been achieved partially due to the fact that he’s made his records not in extravagant recording studios, but rather with friends in non-traditional places. Abandoned storefronts, garages, bars, living rooms; these are the places where Parr and engineer Jake Larson recorded the majority of his releases. But he isn’t completely uninterested in change, as his most recent full-length, Barnswallow, was captured in an actual studio with friend Tom Herbers.

What everyone says about Parr is true. The man is honest. He’s genuine. He doesn’t feign caring about an issue or a person—his compassion is real. And he’s more than willing to give what he can to support others. (I’d be hard-pressed to name another musician who plays more fundraisers and lends more support to social causes than Charlie Parr.) Empathy, concern, and kindness are hallmarks of a good and moral person, and these are common descriptions you’ll hear when talking to anyone close to Parr.

Charlie is a storyteller and he’s one of the best. Don’t believe me? Read his Facebook posts (yes, a man who plays music from the 1920s updates his Facebook account). Charlie’s posts read like diary entries. From his adventures on the road finding good coffee and preparing meals on the manifold of his van to his day-to-day life at home with his family (including the emotional tales of a man growing older alongside his dog), Parr has the keen ability to turn the seemingly mundane into riveting prose. Charlie’s words subtly remind us to reflect and enjoy life as it happens. And it’s because of all of this, the entire package, that Charlie Parr is not only one of my favorite musicians, but one of my favorite people.

Charlie Parr: Last Night I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan is available now on Chaperone Records and includes a DVD of the film Meeting Charlie Parr produced by the Meeting Team, a vinyl LP containing 42 minutes of music recorded during the film production, and an MP3 download card for the entirety of the recordings.

—Walt Dizzo

Essential Videos:

Previous Artists of the Month:

January 2013: Dan Wilson

February 2013: Low

March 2013: 12 Rods

April 2013: The Jayhawks

May 2013: The Hopefuls

June 2013: The Hang Ups

July 2013: The Soviettes

August 2013: The Suburbs

September 2013: The Replacements


Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.