Poor Charlie Parr broke his right shoulder skateboarding. Doctors fixed him up with eight pins and a metal plate, and in the process of relearning to play guitar, Parr had an epiphany that “having pure motives and loving intention” was more important than treating music as a career. So he returned to some songs he’d written years earlier, determined to “live through them again, and take them apart, and put them together.”
On this second go-around, at 52 years old, Parr’s voice is more frayed than it used to be, and he’s more likely to switch between singing and speaking to follow wherever these lyrics carry him. On 12-string and resonator guitar, where his fingerpicking has grown more complex and his notes more fragile, his playing has become so relaxed, so comfortable, that the performances gain a quieter intimacy, a deeper sense of the truth in the stories he’s telling.
Some, like 2003’s “To a Scrapyard Bus Stop,” have become so lived-in they pour out in one long mumble, as if he’s making them up on the spot, describing the tragedy right in front of his eyes. Others, like 2011’s “Cheap Wine,” find a new gentleness in the guitar parts to balance the sad desperation of the liquor store owner narrator. The covers of Spider John Koerner (“Running Jumping Standing Still”) and Grant Hart (“Twenty-Five Forty-One”) pay tribute to Parr’s Minnesota roots and his reasons for picking up guitar in the first place, summing up an anti-career without even trying.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.