Charlie Parr looks the part of a man who plays traditional American folk and blues. He is balding and bespectacled, with a dark bird’s nest of a beard that has trails of gray hair throughout. His clothing tends toward the utilitarian: flannel, cotton long johns, suspenders, dungarees, sturdy shoes. Certainly Parr could hop a train from his native Minnesota and travel to Missoula with nothing but a guitar and a bed roll (maybe even a cooking pot for a hat). When he performs, he often sits hunched over his guitar, knees nearly tucked into his chest. Parr wraps his body around the instrument like a snake on a tree branch. His left foot bounces and taps; his eyes stray downward past his hands and onto the floor, but he is not in the room with the audience. He is elsewhere, a distant doleful place inside his heart and mind. I’m not being disparaging here. The man lives in his music and the only thing more authentic than his look is his sound.
Although, Parr’s music is typically stripped down to its bare essentials–vocals, guitar, a bit of harmonica–his sound often takes up a lot of sonic space, particularly when he is joined on vocals by his wife Emily Parr. His music is bluesy and often story-driven. On a track like “1922 Blues” from the album 1922, Parr’s protagonist complains of taxes, lost loves never had and the man in general. But his protagonist isn’t blaming the Universe for his ordeals admitting that he drank so much that “I slept all night on the bar room floor / and woke up this morning my head was sore / Pockets empty but I want some more / The bar man's got my car though.” While Parr’s people might not be able to deliver a lecture on responsibility, they do tell us something about reality.