For the most part, Charlie Parr can be taken at face value. But let's clear up a couple misconceptions.
First, he's not nearly as sad as his music would suggest. In a recent phone conversation, the blues/country singer - who lives in Duluth with his wife, Emily, and their two young children - sounded downright content with life.
"Well, I guess I've always been a little bit melancholy as a person, and part of the therapy of writing songs is you relieve yourself of some of that," Parr said. "I've been a lucky person in the last few years. I can sit around and play guitar and play dinosaurs with my son. I don't have a lot to be sad about."
Since 2002, Duluth folk musician Charlie Parr has made five tours to the United Kingdom and Ireland, including a visit last year. Photo by Peter Locke
Second, he's not a broken-down holdover from the days of old blues who can't afford a razor or nice clothes. The Austin, Minn., native is only 40 years old. He dresses simple - perhaps a flannel shirt and a winter cap - because he hates shopping.
"I like it when people buy me something," he said. "When I'm sitting at home and clothes show up, I wear 'em. I really don't like standing around in stores. Emily doesn't take me shopping."
And all those between-songs comments about his ubiquitous aches and pains? It's filler.
"I know (my wife) cringes every time she comes to a show and I say something stupid into the mic," Parr said. "Initially, when I couldn't think of something to say, I'd start talking about whatever physical ailment I thought I had at the time. Now she thinks it's funny."
Duluth folk musician Charlie Parr is known for strumming and picking on his National resonator guitar. Photo by Peter Martin
OK, so Parr isn't literally a defeated street corner bluesman with one foot in the grave. Nonetheless, his gruff story songs - the kind that patrons will hear at Friday's Grassroots Concert in Nisswa - are filled with worldly truth. Parr's music asks a listener to get a good grip on their coffee mug as they drift off, mesmerized by the timeless yarns.
To cite an example, "Dead Cat on the Line" from 2005's "Rooster" is certainly a downer. It's about an old codger who compares himself to a feline that unwittingly electrocutes itself on a telephone wire, thus shutting down communication for a large group of people. But the song is also transporting.
That's partly because of Parr's strummin' and pluckin' on the aptly named resonator guitar, but it's mostly due to the universal nature of his songs.
Duluth folk musician Charlie Parr performed in September 2004 at the Tin Angel in Coventry, England, as part of a tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Photo by Andrew Robert Fox
"I like real kinds of stories, you know?" Parr said. "I read a lot of Raymond Carver and guys who write about regular folks. I think that's more compelling than fantastic stuff - that's cool, but I can't relate to it and can't write it. I used to do a lot of crazy stuff. Now, if I had my choice, I'd go to bed at 8 o'clock."
If Parr had to choose a style to tell his tales, he wouldn't find a better fit than his foot-tapping, porch-swing blues. However, it wasn't a calculated choice.
If you go
Who: Charlie Parr
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Nisswa Community Center
Admission: $15 (adults), $10 (11 and younger)
Phone: (218) 963-2976
Web sites: www.charlieparr.com, www.grassrootsconcerts.org
On the Web: For song samples from "Rooster" (2005) and the live album "Backslider" (2006), visit brainerddispatch.com.
"When I'm at home listening to music, normally it was recorded before 1944," Parr said. "What you immerse yourself in tends to be what you end up with. Those old songs, that's the way they were: Droney story songs with no choruses and unhappy storylines. When I write, I don't think too seriously about modeling things after anything."
Parr, who will return to the lakes area March 2 for a show at the Eclectic Cafe in Brainerd, plans to record his sixth album in April, either at a barn in Iowa or a machine shed in Wisconsin. The admittedly jittery musician has recorded only one record in a studio - 2002's "1922." He recorded "Rooster" at a warehouse on Michigan Avenue in Duluth.
"What I don't like about the studio is you have limited physical options," Parr said. "You have a ton of equipment options, but when it comes to spatial options, you can sit either here or there. In a barn, I can record in the barn itself, in the machine shed, by the fire, on the porch, on the roof of my car. I don't feel confined.
"It's obviously a personal problem, not a problem with studios. It's like clothes - once you find something you like, everything else seems kind of restricting."
JOHN HANSEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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