Charlie Parr’s Dreamlike “Hollandale”

charlie parr

Charlie Parr, Hollandale (Chaperone Records)

The guitar is one of those instrumental pieces of a musician’s arsenal that can sound like a thousand different things in a thousand different hands, from the fast flatpickers to the delicate classical guitarist, the punk thrasher to the jazz swinger. Minnesota guitarist Charlie Parr’s weapon of choice is the resonator guitar, mostly, and he makes it sing in mournful, wailing tones on this new instrumental album of extended pieces with electric guitarist and producer Allan Sparhawk.

From the earliest blues masters, the resonator has held a spooky, dark place in music—think Son House and “John the Revelator”. Parr knows this and uses the instrument’s naturally supernatural tones to create a sonic sculpture across two huge movements, “I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night (Part 1) and (Part 2). The first half builds as it ebbs and flows, returning to a stinging slide theme again and again as the tension mounts like a Wagner march. Around the nine minute mark, spent and elegiac, the dense arrangement folds up its tent and walks off into a mercurial sunset of sorts, fading ever so gradually as the theme is repeated on a single string and a ghostly echo wails in the background.

The title track, inserted as it is between the main piece’s two parts, is drone-like but more intermission than bridge, a beautiful folk melody on its own but no match for its surroundings. Likewise the last two tracks suffer, if only in comparison. “Barn Swallows At Twilight” is minimalist and banjo-sounding, almost, as Parr evokes the flutter and flocking of the titular birds in the dusk of evening, painting the scene with his driving flurry of notes.

The dreamlike fugue returns for a second round with Part 2, and one wonders at the story entwined in the bagpipe-like monotony of the underlying low notes (provided in understated support via Sparhawk’s electric, apparently) and the stirring, equally repetitive crash of the resonator and slide above. Parr’s playing has a way of inducing visions and metaphors in the mind, so whether or not you or I dream about Paul Bunyan doesn’t matter, as long as we dream something out of these passages.

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