On the title track of his seventeenth album, Last of the Better Days Ahead, Minnesota roots songwriter and guitarist Charlie Parr grapples with the belated recognition of the worth of things long vanished. As Parr crosspicks a cascading series of glissandos, punctuated with the rattlesnake buzz of loose strings, he laments a long-gone 1964 Ford Falcon in a raspy croon that sounds both ancient and familiar. It’s clear that Parr, now in his mid-50s, misses the untapped youth the car symbolizes rather than the machine itself, but that doesn’t mean this lyrical, elegiac album wants for energy and a sprightly sense of adventure.
Adopting an outdated term for Memorial Day, “Decoration Day” opens gently before plunging into a wiry, jangling instrumental that suggests a metallic and muscular cousin of Jorma Kaukonen’s “Embryonic Journey.” With the loping, leathery sashay “On Listening to Robert Johnson,” Parr’s voice approximates Johnson’s haunted wail, but he tells his own story—a reverie of hearing spectral music in the night. “Bed of Wasps” channels the spare folk of Woody Guthrie, one of Parr’s inspirations. Parr’s grainy voice weaves around appropriately ringing and stinging single notes that vibrate with the tension of long bottled-up emotions.
Woozy wobbling notes, like voices echoing across the water, announce “Blues for Whitefish Lake, 1975.” Here, with meditative picking, Parr limns a scene of darkening pines, a rotted boat dock, and the expectation of hearing his father’s voice, which never comes. It’s a reminder that our memories may not reflect anything that actually happened, but they shape us nonetheless.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.