CD: 11 Songs; 54:41 Minutes
Styles: Pre-1950s-Style Blues, Traditional Acoustic and Electric Blues, Bluegrass
Long before electric shredders took center stage in the blues, as they often do, banjo and acoustic guitar varieties were king. There was a fine line between blues and bluegrass back then, as today there lies a wobbly tightrope between blues and blues rock. Minnesota’s Charlie Parr captures this earlier style of blues music so aptly that upon first listen, if they don’t know the 2015 release date of Stumpjumper, listeners might believe that the eleven songs on it are covers dating from the 1920s through the 1940s. As it stands, ten of these eleven are atmospheric originals. The only cover is the last song, “Delia”, a traditional murder ballad with a fresh arrangement by Parr. Some fans might find his style of blues an acquired taste on three counts: 1) they might be far more used to electric guitar; 2) they might believe banjo and fiddle don’t belong in their favorite musical niche anymore, and 3) Charlie’s vocals are heartfelt but mumbled, making it nigh impossible to decipher his lyrics. Despite all these potential minuses, the big plus is that he takes us back in time to the very birth of the genre – labor pains included. No one can claim Parr’s blues aren’t blues. They’re just reminiscent of an era lost in the mists of years, revealed again.
Joining Charlie as he plays 12-string, National steel guitar, and a fretless banjo are Emily Parr on vocal harmony; album producer Phil Cook on background harmony, short piano, steel guitar, banjo, and electric guitar; Ryan Gustafson on electric bass, fiddle, and banjo; and James Wallace on drums and piano.The following three selections may not be blues as the baby boomers and their descendants know it, but as the boomers’ own parents might have. They’re played with soul, sass, and spontaneity.
Track 01: “Evil Companion” – The opener’s jaunty acoustic guitar intro is worthy of being in any contemporary Western, especially if the opening scene features a broken-down pickup truck barreling down a dusty road. “If you don’t love me, it’s nobody’s fault but mine,” Charlie sings in a moment of vocal lucidity. He might remind some of Loudon Wainwright, musical humorist.
Track 04: “Remember Me If I Forget” – Bluegrass or blues? That is the question, but the answer is: it’s great! Banjo sparkles in the musical spotlight as vocal harmonies complement it with good-natured warmth.
Track 05: “On Marrying a Woman with an Uncontrollable Temper” – With a title that yours truly nominates for one of the best of the year, track five might bring back unsavory memories for some. It’s a banjo and fiddle extravaganza running for four minutes and fifty-four seconds. This sounds like drone or trance blues, before such a subgenre was ever invented. “Oh, my Lord, my Lord, my Lord,” Charlie intones in monk-like fashion. “I went ahead and married an angry girl, whose father wants to kill me and her mother just don’t mind.”
Even though the songs of Stumpjumper take getting used to, they’re pure pre-1950’s-style blues!