archive review originally posted on the losing today site c. 2003
I’ll let you into a little secret of mine here. It had always been (maybe foolishly) in my mind to one day cross the Nevada in a beaten up but hitherto reliable 50’s convertible with only my own thoughts, the hot sun, the natural elements of the forever rolling landscapes and a stack of classic blues CD’s for company. Maybe a little Elmore, some Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, you get the drill. To that pile I’ve added ‘King Earl’ by Charlie Parr, which in simple terms gives you an inkling from where this release is coming.
We were warned by the label ‘it’s better than Criminals and Sinners’. In response we sniffed, for the album they referred and compared is in our humble opinion one of the shining lights of 2004. Previously Parr had been unknown to us, it was just another CD, just another well written biog and press release that though joyously announcing the return to traditional music values failed almost miserably to even scratch the surface of what was to be a ‘purist paradise’.
A handful of months pass by and another CD by Charlie Parr. Could it really be better than ‘Criminal and Sinners’, you bet your possum cooked arse it is. Thirteen more immense tracks, and when we say immense we mean like huge hulking slabs of good time eyes staring at the bottom of a bottle of bourbon traditionally scored tunes drafted in from the deep South via the Mississippi delta. In an age of commercialism and celebrity and the turn of a quick buck, the soul saving melodies of Parr are like a breath of fresh air, timeless and majestic, princely and magnificent.
If anything ‘King Earl’ is a more rootsy and dusty affair than its predecessor, these square jawed gems have been blended from the finest ingredients and left to mature in oak wood casks until fit to burst. As with ‘Criminals and Sinners’ the attendant ghosts of Mississippi John Hurt, Carl Perkins and John Fahey (especially on the exceptionally springy blues hoedown ‘Worried Blues’ which opens the set) still haunt the gritty grooves, Parr weaves deliriously amid ancient mountain music motifs as old as the Earth itself spliced and peppered by bluegrass, delta blues and the merest sprinkling of homely folk.
‘King Earl’ was laid down on a two track during a frenzied one night recording session earlier this year which in some ways goes to explain the raw passion which pervades throughout, overall it suggests a feeling of travel as Parr ventures the length and breadth of the Union re-tracing the foot steps of the legendary pioneers of the blues, this time influenced markedly by Charlie Patton, the barely audible strains of Elmore James (on the, it has to be said, awesome ‘Ode to a new dealer’) and Robert Johnson can also be heard in the distance along with equally minded modern day artists such as Ry Cooder, Will Oldham, King Creosote (check out the heartbreaking title track for any further evidence) and Steve Earle (just check out the ‘Copperhead Road’ like motifs being scratched by that classic early Sun studio sounds so ably worked by Cash / Perkins and Presley on ‘Reverend Eviction’s Blues’). So authentic sounding, ‘King Earl’ will have swearing you can touch the imagery and smell the wide-open plains such is its vividness.
Tracks such as the grim ‘Possessed by the Devil’ with its subtle referencing of the Jones’ era Stones c. ’Their Satanic Majesties Request’ and the barn hopping blue grass slog ‘Union Tramp’ with its passing nod to Scruggs and Flatt neatly exemplifies the balance of the light and dark that Parr keenly aims for. For me though the centrepiece of the whole album come in the form of both the haunting ‘Miner’s lament’ which itself evokes the spirit of Nick Drake’s ‘River Man’ and the doomy ‘1917’ which mirrors the aforementioned artists ‘Black Eyed Dog’ for intensity and dejected bleakness, both endearingly colourful in a way that Drake could only ever be and yet numbingly hollow.
‘King Earl’ is that rarest of treats all wrapped in a natural, honest to God rawness. Now you treat it with respect y’hear.l own up to saying that this wasn’t on the evenings listening schedule, blighter impishly popped up on the sound cloud player kicking in immediately after the Weddoes track. Still, it’s a bit of a belter, agreed possessed of a delayed punch, one of those slow to catch cuities I guess you could call it but nonetheless something that had us drawn to memories of the Clerks and more noticeably kaputt whose debuting ‘dishes’ despite the intervening years, still catches us on the hop each and every time it rears into occasional view. Anyhow, this has the same flavouring, which while you’re there you might want to add Controller Controller to the reference markers. This be Porridge Radio with a cut, I think, called ‘give / take’ that’s heading out of the memorials of distinction sound house, a label I’m certain we’ve had cause to wow over in the distant past.