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Charlie Parr At Higher Ground

Doug Collette By

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Charlie Parr
Higher Ground, Showcase Lounge
South Burlington, VT
July 27, 2018

Charlie Parr was downright dazzling in Higher Ground's Showcase Lounge Friday July 27. And if that seems hyperbole given his somewhat subdued concert in the same room last autumn, it probably shouldn't: with some eight more months of touring in his mini-van, the deceptively bedraggled looking bluesman has transcended the level of earnest disciple of the genre who was mesmerized (and mesmerizing) through immersion in his own musicianship this past October.

Parr displayed a master's abandon in his playing and singing during his latest single set at the venue. It was all without any overt histrionics too and he also exhibited a markedly higher level of self-assurance no doubt rooted in the deft precision with which he picked and strummed, alternating between a twelve-string acoustic and an electrified resonator cum bottleneck. Thus, it's hardly a surprise that, by only his third number, "Peaceful Valley," Charlie had the crowd in the palm of his hand.

Of course, there was no question the audience in this small room was ready to pay close attention. Attendance of roughly fifty people hardly allows for hangers on, but it's nevertheless noteworthy that, during the ninety minutes approximate Parr sat alone onstage. only a couple cell phones flashed and then only briefly (one thankfully relegated to the vicinity of the bar in the back).

Once this man began to play, after shuffling on stage sans intro, then tuning up without a word, he brought virtually everyone on the room close to him physically and psychically. As a result, his self-effacing demeanor, coupled with humorous between-song repartee created an upbeat and relaxed atmosphere that belied the portent in recurring themes of death and dislocation ("Ain't No Grave," "Mastodon") that permeated many of his song selections.

Blues icon Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil," Rev. Robert Wilkins "Prodigal Son" (covered by The Rolling Stones on Beggars (London, 1968) and a mashup including Muddy Waters' "Behind the Sun" (after which Eric Clapton named an album) and "Rollin' and Tumblin'" all preceded an instrumental composite Parr called "My Grandfather's Clock," a brief display of technique for those who might've otherwise missed the expertise of this Minnesota.

Even with the portent in much of his repertoire, songs like "Jubilee" and "Remember Me If I Forget." radiates a distinct joie de vivre as Charlie Parr offers them. It's an implicitly positive attitude that no doubt further inspired people to dance more often and in more demonstrative fashion as this evening progressed. But that stance also commands an obvious devotion to Parr that remains strong and grows in depth (if not breadth) with each successive visit to the Green Mountains: he projects such a winning charm—implying he's not all that different than those who come to see him—that, in combination with his artistic growth of the last year, imbued this appearance with a tacit invitation to see him every time he comes to town.

Just as he promised at the end of last October's show, this mid-summer night Charlie yet again reiterated a desire to return. It was an expression of loyalty that drew yet another round of acclamation from the assembled, an exchange so deeply affectionate that, departing the venue, the flashes of lightning in the sky, presaging the emergence of the full moon from behind some ominous clouds, seemed like nothing so much as nature's recognition that a comparable force had been at work inside the building below.

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