Charlie Parr 2024
Photo: Shelly Mosman / Shore Fire Media

Charlie Parr Looks Inward and Upward for ‘Little Sun’

Charlie Parr remains aware of his blues tradition, but he mostly moves into his own space, building on his roots background with creativity for Little Sun.

Little Sun
Charlie Parr
Smithsonian Folkways
22 March 2024

Roots artist Charlie Parr has always worked fast. The bluesman has frequently recorded his albums essentially live, choosing to capture that first charged performance even at the cost of perfection (he knows perfect isn’t always better). Churning out 17 albums in his first 20 years as a recording artist worked well for Parr and gave him plenty of time on the road.

For new release Little Sun, though, he decided to change things up, bringing in producer Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, the Jayhawks) and a strong set of musicians, including guitarist Marisa Anderson, Anna Tivel, and Victor Krummenacher (of Camper van Beethoven). He recorded these tracks simply with live first or second takes, allowing him to expand his sound but without letting his sound turn dry. Instead, he updated his aesthetic or at least found a new version of an old aesthetic.

Parr remains aware of his tradition, but he no longer sounds like a descendant of, say, Mississippi John Hurt or Charlie Patton. At times he sounds closer to Justin Townes Earle or Pokey LaFarge (opener “Portland Avenue” fits into that broad category), but he mostly moves into his own space, building on his roots background with creativity. “Bear Head Lake” epitomizes his flexibility. Parr’s storytelling usually receives the most attention, but here, he lets his guitar do much of the work, creating an almost psychedelic acoustic sound. He reflects on the experience of escaping from the civilized world into nature, feeling the coolness of the lake and the openness of the sky as both transportive and transcendent. The song sprawls, becoming almost hypnotic but always leaning more toward cosmic feelings than trance blues, a style that might have seemed like a more likely fit.

From there, the band jump straight into the uptempo “Boombox”. Staring at a reflection in a lake can be one sort of release, but here, simply dancing is another form. The song sounds both 75 years old and immediate, with Krummenacher’s upright bass guiding everything else into place. The track contrasts with the closer “Sloth”, which has a similar beat but offers a different approach to life. Rather than jumping through a joint, Parr wanders slowly, with no plans and no concerns. It’s an ode to the slow life, but less about intentional escape or cathartic music and more about a laid-back lifestyle. Given its topic, the song feels a little busy and never quite connects. Parr wants to wander out, but it’s hard to bounce to disconnection and apathy (neither feelings he likely intends to convey, but ones that orbit the character in his song). It makes for an odd way to close Little Sun.

The title track does a better job of establishing focus; it is easy country blues supporting Parr’s meditations. He considers the ways that we can allow ourselves to be distracted by worry and miss out on the music that speaks to us. The music doesn’t fail; he says, “We just have to listen louder.” To help us, he pleads for “Little Sun” to come back and play once more. The name suggests an archetypal figure, maybe nodding to contemporary Son Little, but also suggesting artists like Son House and any blues artist with “Little” in his stage name.

In his own music, Charlie Parr hints at any number of related musicians but never betrays his own vision, one that continues to find new routes to explore, even 18 albums in. Sometimes, as Parr knows both inside and outside the content of the album, you just need to slow down a little bit.

RATING 6 / 10