Sometimes it feels like Charlie Parr is already dead. Maybe it's because his recordings sound older than dirt and twice as gritty, or it could be his intrinsic obsession with mortality. Maybe it's because his music is just plain haunting.
Parr sticks mostly to old gospel tunes on his latest release, crafting folk/blues arrangements that sound neither sanctimonious nor irreverant, just authentic and as worn out as the cover of a preacher's Bible. He enlisted some help from his local Duluth, Minn., music scene (particularly the harmony vocals of his wife, Emily), but the record still feels as stark as the North Country winters Parr is used to. This rustic sonic quality is one of the greatest charms of the record, lending depth to the songs and allowing natural reverb to fill the empty space with ghostly echoes.
This man's distinct ability to tell a story is engrossing, especially on dirges like "East Virginia Blues" or Blind Willie Johnson's ode to the Titanic, "God Moves on the Water." The album reaches its high point at the very end with "Poor Lazarus," a greasy, simmering, stomp-and-holler tune that groans for eight minutes with ruminations straight from the mouth of an open grave.
Charlie Parr plays The Top Hat Saturday, March 24, at 10 PM. $10/$8 advance.