The great thing about leaving Charlie Parr’s gig at the Slaughtered Lamb is that I’ve left with a copy of the vinyl version of Barnswallow under my arm. The bummer is that the show is finished and the first of two nights at The Slaughtered lamb, courtesy of Pull Up The Roots is at an end. This is one of those gigs (actually the second of the night for me) where all of the ducks, or possibly swallows, seem to line up and you know that you’ve seen something special.
OK! A degree of indulgence is required as a lone figure hunched over a resonator guitar is not the sort of thing that screams spectacle. The sound that emanates doesn’t either, it more casually taps you on the shoulder and quietly says, “listen up.” Thankfully the venue, even when it’s hot and sweaty full, allows for that to happen and the result is a little bit of the hereafter in the here and now.
There’s something about the musicianship of the likes of Charlie Parr. There’s a natural flow of fingers and vocal chords that speaks as one voice. There’s a connectedness that reaches far beyond the confines of the room. Wit, wisdom and all life might be revealed, but there is no show and tell, no sleight and no artifice, it’s a much more fundamental channelling of energy and synergy that comes from a base humanity. There’s also undoubtedly a heap of bloody hard work and practice involved, not that it shows in any way tonight.
That’s not to say there’s no showmanship as such, it’s just that the stories seem spontaneous. The between song banter is just Charlie talking about stuff, the way he sings about stuff, as if it all matters. It may be profound it also may be incidental, it’s all down to your willingness to surrender to Charlie’s thinking and follow story lines wherever they may lead you. But it’s deep rooted, Charlie time and again defers to other sources and despite, or possibly because of the natural musical flow, you know that he has worked hard to find those melodies, harmonies and hooks that resonate within him first, before finding their way into the wider world. You also know that there are little truths and pearls of wisdom exclusively available here tonight.
The way he describes the relationship with his son and daughter, the embarrassment of the former, the delight in foolishness of the latter, is sharp and funny. The tales of travel and the unexpected, if fleeting scenarios that develop are too. Make no mistake this is Charlie enjoying the world and relishing the experiences that his life affords, but he also brings his own sense of time and place with him to any and every performance.
Thus Badger and the tale on the back of the vinyl seem to show how unconnected we really are. Profound statements of casual brutality they are also non-judgemental, yet pin-prick sharp in the questions they ask. If simple country-blues are to be found in Charlie’s style, there’s something far more ambivalent in the quest for redemption. You might not get all of the answers, but you sure as hell get some of the right questions. That is surely where the best music takes you, the rest you have to do for yourselves.
As for that piece of vinyl, questions and all, it’s by far the best way to take this music home. The sleeve apart from anything else needs to be seen and considered. A swallow with Jackson Pollock-esque daubs and splatters of movement is something best seen in this format. The content is more agnostic and seeks a home wherever it finds one. An open heart and an open mind are all that’s required, but see Charlie and listen to Charlie in any way you can.
Review by: Simon Holland