Charlie Parr, from Duluth, Minnesota, is best known as a creator of music with old-time style: ancient folk tunes, pre-war country blues, traditional spirituals.
Which is why he cautions people eyeballing records at the merch table against buying his newest album, “Hollandale,” released earlier this year by Chaperone Records.
In his explanation, he evokes metal titans Megadeth, of course.
“If you go see Megadeth play and they just put out a classical album, but they didn’t play anything off of it, and you buy that thinking that’s their new record, there’s gonna be some part of you that goes, ‘Aw, it’s Megadeth but it doesn’t sound like Megadeth,’” Parr said in a phone interview from his mother’s house in Austin, Minnesota.
“If I want to be fair, ‘Hollandale’ is totally different. (Which is) not to say that I’m not happy with it or proud of it, ’cause I am. I’m super happy and super proud of it,” he continued. “But I’m also … the kind of person that really wants to make other people happy. That’s just being Minnesotan, I guess.”
In other words, Parr doesn’t want to send people enamored with his grizzled folk-blues home with a document of meandering, improvised instrumental drones. Or at least he wants to give them fair warning of what they’re holding in their hands.
“They made an effort. They left the house. They put on a coat. They paid a cover. They put gas in their car. They bought a CD,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes into that and I want to be cognizant of that and protect their right to have a nice time and include me in that, and be grateful for that.”
Parr, who will play in Bend on Tuesday (see “If you go”), has made his name over the past decade and a half as a conduit and interpreter of old-soul roots music, with 12 well-received official studio albums and an array of stray tracks, self-releases, collaborations and whatnot under his suspenders. But “Hollandale” is his first instrumental work, and his most thorough exploration thus far of one of his favorite, more modern styles.
That style is widely known as American Primitivism, an expansive and often experimental strain of acoustic guitar music that marries neoclassical songs with the fingerpicking playing style.
“I listen to a lot of instrumental guitar music. I love John Fahey and Robbie Basho and Peter Lang and Leo Kottke and all those classic guys, but I’m also completely taken with (modern players like) Steve Gunn and Cian Nugent,” Parr said. “I love weird guys like Bill Orcutt and (Paul Metzger). I’m just completely taken with it. I listen to it all the time. And when I play the guitar and I’m not really practicing for anything specific, that’s kind of what I gravitate toward.”
The new record came about after Parr told a friend (and mentor), Alan Sparhawk of the Duluth-based indie-rock band Low, what he just told you.
Sparhawk’s response? Record it. He invited Parr over to a house he was renovating, where he had mics set up in a “weird-sounding” room, Parr said. And Parr tuned his guitar and started playing, letting the spirit of improv guide the way.
“It kind of snuck up on me ’cause then he turned around and played it back and I really liked it. (Alan) said, ‘You know, that’s a whole different thing. You should do this,’” Parr said. “So I came back in a couple days and I did it again.”
After three sessions, the raw materials for “Hollandale” were ready for editing and production. The sessions were among the most relaxed Parr has ever experienced while recording, he said.
“I just played. I didn’t even think about it. It didn’t strike me that we were going to release it. It was just something that Alan had been so supportive and encouraging and really genuinely interested in what I was going on about,” Parr said. “I think it felt so good because I was playing it as a way to communicate with a dear friend, and that made a massive amount of difference to me.”
You can hear that ease in the five tracks that make up “Hollandale,” a rich and resonant collection of music that begins to bridge the gap between Parr’s musical interests. They are generally gentle and unassuming, the sound of one highly skilled man speaking through six or 12 strings. But there are also elongated sonic arcs that gather around one note or one riff or one groove and bloom into a rickety wall of sound.
The blues are there, but they don’t dominate. They do drive a pair of tracks called “I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyon Last Night.” But the title track is built around high-pitched drones; it’s airy and bright, like silence at sunrise. At nine minutes long, the closer, “Clearlake,” is the highlight, an elegant and understated piece that ebbs and flows around a core of two repeated notes.
If you see Parr Tuesday night at Crow’s Feet Commons, don’t expect to hear the improvisations of “Hollandale” recreated. He mostly leaves ’em back at that renovated house in Minnesota, choosing instead to play the folk-blues music he knows people came to hear.
Every once in a while, though, he’ll slip a chunk of “Hollandale” into the set if a particular passage of a song reminds him of something off the new album. When that happens, Parr lets the guitar lead the way, explores the idea for a bit, and then circles back to the original number.
He believes that’s a sign that his two musical worlds are meshing, both live and in his songwriting. That’s no shock, given the importance of drone in old Appalachian folk music.
“I feel like I’m finally getting to a place where I’m bringing those two parts of what I’ve done together for once and making them fit together a little bit more,” he said. “I’m excited to get down to making the next record now because I think I’m kind of starting to ‘get’ that relationship between the two halves of my musical self.”
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