(this piece was published by Planet JH Weekly)
One can gather a substantial amount of troubadour knowledge from a folk musician as well versed as Charlie Parr. Parr is seemingly from a simpler bygone era free of electronic distractions, social media and instrument effects. During his last tour stop through Jackson, the guitar/banjo picker taught this fellow traveler how to cook meals on a vehicle manifold by referencing Manifold Destiny: Guide to Cooking on Your Car Engine! My life was forever changed. Thanks Charlie.
Parr will roll into the intimacy of Dornan’s with another familiar folkster in Betse Ellis. The fiery fiddler from Kansas City has made several appearances in the Tetons over the years, namely with hillbilly country band The Wilders and bluegrass outfit Kane’s River. Ellis is a standout performer, a “Hendrix” on the fiddle with deep traditional and classical roots while often stepping out of the box with a confident leap.
Over the course of ten albums and touring for a solid dozen years with The Wilders, 2012 found Ellis pursuing a solo career in lieu of her band taking a hiatus. This pursuit led to the release of her sophomore solo release, High Moon Order, last summer. The raw, straightforward approach of the thirteen-song set features primarily original compositions. From delicate lyrics over a floating pedal steel to Celtic-influenced old-time music to screaming fiddle and drums, there’s quite a range in the Ozark fireball’s playing. She also digresses to singing over a strumming tenor guitar. The album follows up her 2009 album Don’t You Want to Go, which earned an Independent Music Award nomination.
As for Renaissance man Charlie Parr, country-blues and folk-blues is his speak. The genre’s guitar-driven, early 20th century heyday mirrored the period of the great Negro migration north to the cities, and often narrated emerging social patterns during the period. More downhome and fluid than folk, Parr’s take on the weathered style is sparked by late contemporary guitarist Jack Rose, who died in 2009 at the age of 38, as well as historic characters from his father’s vinyl collection that had been collected from travels through The South—Blind Willie Johnson, Charlie Patton, and Mance Lipscomb.
From the small town of Austin, Minnesota, self-taught Parr has some choice instruments—a National resonator guitar, a fretless open-back banjo, and a baritone twelve-string guitar. Parr primarily picks in a Piedmont style, a fingerpicking approach that employs alternating a bass string rhythmic pattern with the thumb while also supporting a syncopated melody using the forefinger. The blend of Parr’s style with Ellis’s fiddle weaving is sure to be a collaboration worth experiencing.
Some of his thirteen-plus albums are out of print, many are available on vinyl, and he usually travels alone—with guitar, banjo and “one foot in the grave.” A contemporary protagonist of what’s left of the folk tradition in the form of traveling acts, Parr is very much what you see is what you get. His latest effort was released in January, Hollandale, an all instrumental EP of five songs featuring mostly twelve-string guitar and improvised around five different open tunings.
“I really do love it all,” Parr said before his first show at Dornan’s in 2011. “It’s fun going to a new place and feeling it out. I never write setlists and take each moment as it comes. I really enjoy living that way. I’m really an eternal now kind of person.” Charlie Parr and Betse Ellis, 8 p.m. Wednesday at Dornan’s in Moose. Tickets are $15/advance, $18/day-of-show, available at Valley Bookstore, Melody Creek Guitars, and Dornan’s. 733-2415.