On a chilly night in early December, hordes of people gathered in the small but cozy Swing Station in Laporte, CO to see Charlie Parr play a solo show. To say that he has a reputation around here would be to miss something of the energy of the concert. People were ecstatic to see and hear Charlie, and they crowded around him as if he was some new Messiah, like a harbinger of a wide-eyed roots revival, one that promises a way out of these days of confusion and sadness and a path towards glory.
Coming off his new release, “Dog,” the Minnesotan purveyor of country blues has continued his almost non-stop touring of the U.S., which seems appropriate for the man’s music. It’s meant to be consumed in the flesh. There’s an energy to Parr’s music that can only be felt live, absorbing the foot stomping sounds and furious picking of his music deep in your core. An audience member that night would describe to me that Parr’s music was “soul shaking.” She couldn’t have been more right.
There is also something undeniably trance-like about Parr’s music, a repetitiveness that doesn’t wear on you, instead offering you a peek into a world that seems mostly lost to us now. This world is a mystical one, where the trance invites you to dive into a different state of mind, evoking midnight spirituals by the river and foot-stomping jubilees around a raging fire in the forest. When Charlie sings “Are you ready, are you ready for Jubilee to come?” shudders of energy vibrate through the crowd.
The title track from the new album finds us entering into philosophical territory with Charlie at the helm. From a dog’s perspective the singer-songwriter asks questions about souls and habits and choices, using the relationship between man and animal as a launching point. Inspired by his experience on long, exploratory walks with his own dog, Parr’s lyrics speak for themselves:
“How do you know I don’t have a soul?
You can’t look me in the eye and tell me no
When a soul is a soul is a soul
I’ve been forced down ever since I was just small
Tied in the hall or chained out of doors
When a soul is a soul is a soul”
Though each story from Parr kept the tightly packed crowd in a trance, one song in particular stirred the crowd into a frenzy. The song was “Over the Red Cedar,” a journey through fast chord changes and ecstatic picking from his 2015 album “Stumpjumper.” Every chorus found Charlie singing along with the people dancing and swaying in front of him, his 12-string ringing out with the constancy of the river he has memorialized.
“Tuesday Afternoons are the hardest
When time seems to stand still
They’ve piled up quite a few of them now
20 year’s worth of not quite three o’clocks
But times moves as fast as it ever did
And you can’t just slow it down
The Red Cedar Flows
The Red Cedar Grows
And long after you’re gone
It’s outlasting you”
In a time of pop-country songs without substance, Parr is one of the remaining champions of roots music. The spirit of the songs shine through, even in the darkest moments of mortality and depression that he chronicles. In these times that seem to swallow the lives of honest, hard-working people, Parr’s particular brand of roots revival fills the sullen with hope. It’s music of persisting through hard times and moving forward, even through a world that only seems to push us down. It’s not the glossy, refined escapism of much of pop music, and that’s what makes it beautiful.