Review Summary: Rambling blues from one of the best men doing it.
Most professional musicians will spend months upon months slaving away on their album, fine-tuning every last detail to the point of complete exhaustion. That is, of course, unless you're Charlie Parr – the hirsute Minnesota bluesman lay down his latest, When the Devil Goes Blind
, in roughly four hours. And one of those hours, so says Parr, was spent getting lunch. Throw in the fact it was the first time Parr had ever step foot inside a recording studio, as well as the fact that Devil
is Parr's eighth album, and you begin to get the picture that our friend Charlie isn't quite your average professional musician. With that said, it's exactly this which draws you to him to begin with, and it's the stomping country-blues that Parr plays so remarkably well on When the Devil Goes Blind
which will keep you there.
Parr is listed as playing four different instruments on this record: his voice, the guitar, the banjo and his foot. This alone should be a pretty clear indication of what one gets out of When the Devil Goes Blind
– it's a very stripped back exercise in traditional blues, albeit with a crisper sound to it than as per usual. Whether it's a full-speed-ahead slide-guitar stomp or a quieter murder ballad, Parr ensures that even when some tracks sound similar in the tracklisting, each is engaging in their own right. His playing is intricate and creative, seemingly never drawing musical breath until the final chord rings out – particularly evident on the rollicking “South of Austin, North of Lyle” and “I Was Lost Last Night,” The former of the two is jammed out on an open-back banjo to great effect, adding a bluegrass flavour to the sad tale of suicide Parr sings atop of it. The latter, meanwhile, is a shining example of Parr's masterful skills of slide guitar, twisting and turning with a steely resonation – it's evident that the man has been honing his craft for decades on end, and Devil provides some of the finest insights of this to date.
Lyrically, Parr is once again amidst a time gone by of woe, death and an endless winter cold. Drunks (“For The Drunkard's Mother”,) bible-belters (“Where You Gonna Be (When The Good Lord Calls You Home)”) and farmers (the traditional “Turpentine Farm”) are like Tom, Dick and Harry to Charlie, who tells their tales in a husky, sorrowful tone that peaks with sprawling mountain-top howls. Interestingly, it's the most endearing song of the lot that stands out the most on When the Devil Goes Blind
– the traditional gospel blues of “Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” which has been recorded by hundreds of artists since its first recording by Brother Claude Ely in 1953. It starts with just Parr and the aforementioned musical foot, stomping and hollering like a young Son House before kicking in the open-tuned, twanging steel guitar to the mix. It's raw, it's passionate and it stands as one of the defining versions of the song, up there with Brother Claude and even the late Johnny Cash.
In a way, Charlie can be seen as one of the last few traditional bluesmen. From the grit in his voice to the stomp of his feet, Charlie Parr contines to make music true to his heart and true to the origins of blues. When the Devil Goes Blind
does nothing to change this – as a matter of fact, it might be the best example of what he can do yet.