Forget Seasick Steve and his toothless hobo schtick. If you want a contemporary evocation of traditional American blues and country, you could do far worse than pick up Roustabout. It’s the fourth album by Duluth, Minnosota resident Charlie Parr, who counts amongst his fans R. Crumb and Low’s Alan Sparkhawk.
Opening with the rousing banjo-led highlight ‘Don’t Send Your Child to War’, Roustabout sounds like it could have been recorded at any point between 1920 and now. It mixes original numbers with Parr’s reinterpretations of traditional songs, such as ‘Walk Around My Bedside’, a spiritual duet with Emily Parr asking The Lord for protection, that haunts in a similar way to Will Oldham at his starkest. The way these songs are recorded – live and direct to tape – gives them immediacy and a feeling of being lived in. It gives them a depth that studio production couldn’t.
Charlie tells fantastic semi-fictional stories that are both his own and inherited in part from his time as a social worker and from his parents. They were both union workers at an Austin, Minnosota factory, and at the fore of picket line protests. So when he sings the traditional ‘Last Payday at Coal Creek’, you know he understands the fragility of every day blue-collar life. Like Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine, he speaks plainly of the darker places ordinary folks often lose themselves, and of the hope that gets them through.
Stream: ‘Don’t Send Your Child to War'
We’ve booked him for our first ever Birmingham event, which will be at The Victoria on 24 February. More details next week.