Charlie Parr: When the Devil Goes Blind

Richard Elliott

Fine picking, vocals that make a mockery of microphone style, and lyrics about trains, tracks, and times past, all filtered through the immediacy of the present and performed under the influence of enthusiasm.

Charlie Parr

When the Devil Goes Blind

Label: Nero's Neptune
US Release Date: 2010-11-09
UK Release Date: 2010-11-09
Artist Website

If it were possible to get a mainline connection to that dim and distant location mapped out by pre-WWII American blues and folk musics, Charlie Parr would make a reliable operator. There's more than enough immediacy to his delivery, more than enough old weirdness to his tales of drunkards, roustabouts, cowboys, testifiers, and expeditionnaries. The passage of years and the technologies of mediation fade away so that here and now, in the moment of listening, you can enter the there and then of wherever and whenever tall tales such as these were everyday currency.

When The Devil Goes Blind is, according to his new label, the first of Parr's recordings to receive wide distribution. In fact, the best place to get hold of Parr's music, especially for listeners outside the USA, remains his website, where prices are kept low and distribution kept global. Some of the very earliest sets are long gone, but this album's as fine a place to start as any. It mostly consists of Parr originals, with a couple of traditional numbers thrown in for respectability. Really, though, it's hard to tell the difference; Parr mines the tradition so brilliantly that you'd be forgiven for thinking all the tracks had been handed down from other pickers or learned from recordings.

Opener "I Dreamed I Saw Jesse James Last Night" showcases the Parr template pretty well. National Reso-Phonic guitar slipping and sliding around the tune, hoarse vocals making a mockery of microphone style and lyrics about trains, tracks, and times past filter through the immediacy of the present. If you follow the story, it's ultimately the past's inability to inform the present that is the cause of these post-millennial blues. A similar confusion is played out over the course of the album, Parr switching between instruments--12-string, 6-string, banjo--and alternating between a gruff folk-gospel testimony and a quieter, more reflective vocal style that, along with the weeping National, recalls Kelly Joe Phelps at his most emotive. "For the Drunkard's Mother" and "Last Day" are beautiful moments of calm amidst the fire and brimstone of the other more typical Parr numbers.

John Fahey described the music he collected on American Primitive Vol. 1 as "made under the influence of enthusiasm". The enthusiasm he spoke of was a kind of possession, whether Christian or diabolical he couldn't be sure; a mode of ecstatic communication that intervened in the delivery of sacred and secular messages alike. Charlie Parr's recordings, which make splendid companions to Fahey's anthology, are similarly enthusiastic.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.