Album Review – Charlie Parr’s “Stumpjumper”
The most virile rhythms of American folklore aren’t something one can look up on your smartphone. You can’t learn them through a YouTube tutorial, or purchase them in a Guitar Center cheat book, or store them on your iCloud. I’m talking about the rhythms and modes carried by immigrants from places such as Northern Ireland and southern Africa, carefully stowed away in the recesses of their brain amongst their most precious of memories for safe keeping, passed down by kindred over generations and held as sacred custom. These are rhythms that are only kept tabs on through oral histories, and have to be handed from one human to another to be articulated accurately, or happened upon by each individual player through personal discovery to unlock their archaic genius.
The properties of these rhythms are both carefully ordered and completely boundless, but they can never exist without the host of a human soul. You can’t convert them to 1’s and 0’s, or calculate them for maximum booty shaking power through algorithm or formula. Sure there’s some electronic rhythms that are able to stir something primal, but the finger plucked rhythms of folklore reverberating through wood and wire awaken something ancestral. They are like a highly-valued mushroom strain, or a truffle that can only be hunted and never manufactured, and will only be found by those willing to venture into the dank and dark regions of American life where the decaying of dreams gives rise to esteemed creations. These are locales where you learn more about music by smashing your thumb with a hammer during a hard day of work, or by sharing your last bit of food with your neighbor as opposed to aping what you hear on an online tutorial.
Amidst the graveyards of American dreams is where you’ll find the grey, bent, and wiry folklore rhythm master known as Charlie Parr nosing around, looking for his next discovery. With a resonator on his knee, and a tapping foot you could calibrate a Swiss timepiece to, Mr. Parr bends his back to looking for the perfect rhythm or melody for a mood like an archeologist looks for a lost civilization’s prized possession. And many times, Charlie Parr finds it.
Last year Parr set the pace for artistry in American roots music with his instrumental opus Hollandale. Held together mostly by improvised long-form movements, not a word was uttered, but Parr said more than most ever could through music. It would have been impossible for Charlie to spring board into something even more expansive after the exhalation of creative virtuosity evidenced in Hollandale, but his new record for 2015 called Stumpjumper actually does see growth, and something new from many of Parr’s previous projects. For the first time in any noticeable quantity, Parr has solicited the services of fellow musicians to help give something extra to these recordings, while still showing deference to the bluesy, stripped-down sound he’s always been known for.
Stumpjumper is a deep blues album first and foremost, but it’s Charlie Parr’s master craftsmanship at fingerpicking rhythms, and his folk-leaning songwriting that has liberated him from specific categorization. Stumpjumper may have even more pure blues numbers per capita than normal, but it’s the bass, drums, electric guitar accompanying Parr, and even some backing vocals that make this record a distinction of his discography. His first record released with the noted roots label Red House Records located not far from Charlie Parr’s home base of Duluth, MN, it also finds Parr paired up with Phil Cook of Megafaun as a producer, and the album was recorded in North Carolina.
Authentic blues expressions create the body of Stumpjumper with songs like “Evil Companion,” “On Marrying a Woman with an Uncontrollable Temper,” and “Temperance River Blues.” But songs such as “Falcon” show Parr’s ability to conjure rhythms that are both strikingly original, and incredibly ageless. And like Parr seems to do on every record, he pens a song that seems to be destined to last well beyond his years, which is only appropriate because that is the theme of the incredible “Over The Red Cedar.” In this song, we hear the enhancement of the full band approach really take shape with chorus singers and all, yet the progression of Parr being aided by accompaniment never comes across as unnatural, or even unusual, even if you’ve been listening to him play alone for years. It’s with incredible ease that he enters into this new sound, almost like he’s always been playing with a band, but the rest of us just couldn’t hear it.
By holding the roots of American music in his hands with the same care a new father holds the head of his newborn, Charlie Parr crafts an appeal for his music that crosses party lines. Stumpjumper shows that Parr is not interested in just keeping the status quo rolling along like so many artists do 15 years into their careers, but is willing to push himself and his audience to discover new avenues of expression to continue to grow in what has already become a verdant musical legacy.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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May 24, 2015 @ 5:21 pm
This is a great album. Mighty fine pickin’!
Colonel Trevor H. Hupper
May 24, 2015 @ 5:58 pm
Trigger what do you think of Steven Tyler looks like a muppet
May 24, 2015 @ 6:59 pm
Great review. This is a great album and a leap in a good, new direction. This album should get him in the national spotlight.
May 24, 2015 @ 10:50 pm
Triggerman…stop writing about Charlie Parr. he’s already big enough where im starting to have issues with all the people at his shows, i dont need you blabbering to eveybody about how soulful and authentic his music is. not helping. Stumpjumper might be my favorite album of his since Jubilee though.
May 25, 2015 @ 6:51 am
Too late, Lunchbox. The genie is out of the bottle. I’m jumping on the bandwagon.
May 25, 2015 @ 10:08 am
you know who Spider John Koerner is right? those two have played together a few times now. those shows are good times.
May 25, 2015 @ 6:56 am
Incredibly authentic sound, love it!
May 25, 2015 @ 8:03 am
I love it. Im checking out more of his music. Before this site I listened to Zac Brown Band and Jamey Johnson. Now I listen to more male artists because of your site. He is great writer. I like his singing.
May 25, 2015 @ 8:31 pm
Trigger – This is off-topic, but have you considered creating a message board? Maybe this has been discussed in the past and I missed it. I’m a fairly new reader of your stuff. I think it could be a great way for people to discuss country music.
May 25, 2015 @ 8:34 pm
Yes, I had a message board in the past. It was a dusty place where crickets lurked off to die. There has been some clamor to relaunch one with hopes it would be more successful now. I have it on the “to do” list. We’re still trying to get the last final tasks from the recent mobile-friendly redesign out of the way, and then we’ll look into it. Thanks for the interest.
May 25, 2015 @ 8:38 pm
Got you. I would have thought it would work well. Thanks for the quick reply.
May 25, 2015 @ 8:41 pm
Granted, this was a few years ago, and there’s many more folks coming here now. I am willing to give it another shot, but I’m also willing to shoot it quickly if it doesn’t work out. There’s nothing more sad than a dead message board.
May 25, 2015 @ 9:40 pm
That’s for sure, and even the biggest out there are getting so dead, it’s scary. It’s all thanks to Facebook, of course… I think it would work great here though, as long as it was kept really simple. Just a topic or two – not 500 topics with 2 people screwing around in each.
May 26, 2015 @ 12:02 pm
Would love a board on this site.
May 25, 2015 @ 10:01 pm
This is off topic too (and just like Mike, I wish there were a message board on which I could post this), but are you planning to review Jamie Lin Wilson’s album?
After you posted “Here Tonight”, I found myself impressed by this artist that I had never previously heard of and I decided to check out as many songs as I could find from the new album. I must say that I am absolutely mesmerized by how consistently great they are.
If you post a full album review, I hope to use it as an emotional outlet regarding my strong feelings about this album 😉
May 25, 2015 @ 10:08 pm
It’s on the list. As always, it doesn’t have to do with the desire to review something, but the time resources to do so, and the ability to find the right words to describe it.
May 27, 2015 @ 9:25 am
thanks for reviewing this. charlie parr is consistently great and this album is no exception. one quarter of a gun missing IMO.
May 28, 2015 @ 8:02 am
Saw Charlie in a small venue last year – a winery with a capacity of maybe 150 people. I’d never heard of him before that night. He was f’n fantastic live. I follow him on Facebook and really enjoy his occasional posts.
Here’s an example taken from his FB page:
“Folks don’t just stop by the house too often, which seems a shame, I can remember my Dad’s friends dropping by out of the blue just because they were in the area and they’d all sit around the kitchen table with the coffee talking about nothing in particular. Sometimes Brother Dave stops over and we throw guitar bits back and forth with the coffee, but other than that it’s usually just Rueben and me bumming around the house or picking up sticks and dog poop in the yard. Eddy Gilmore stopped over the other day, though, out of the blue, and I got so happy to see someone that I talked his ear off and nearly drove him away. Eddy’s a pure soul, though, he wrote a book called “The Emancipation of a Buried Man” which he left me and I thought it was a great read so I returned the favor, dropping out of the grey sky along with the rain into his personal home to share tea and another round of nonstop chatter from me. Years ago it was work for anyone to scrape a sound out of me, or even a look, I was so shy, but nowadays I’ll wear the dog out with endless monologues concerning idle and meaningless things, things that mean the world to me somehow. So it goes, I’m turning into a trapdoor spider, waiting in the house for some innocent soul to stop by so I can weave my web of dog walk incidents and daughter hair snarls and bent tuning machines and bicycle tires and pants that don’t fit because I was too impatient to try them on at the store. Small wonder that no one drops in.
Thank you, by the way, for all the understanding and kind words I’ve been receiving lately. We’re all hanging in there around here, and I’m grateful that I’m home to help out. Rueben’s doing well and seems to be a lot happier without that kidney stone so that’s good, we walked our little route yesterday, poking our noses into everything from shrubs to the hardware store. I talked the whole time, telling her about my plan to get off my butt and start some tomatoes in that nice 5 gallon bucket we found last week. Listen, I’m gonna shut up now and see what Rueben has to say.”
May 30, 2015 @ 9:16 am
This is excellent