Charlie Parr’s latest is a landscape of sound

Published 5:35 pm Saturday, March 8, 2014

I first listened to Charlie Parr’s latest album when I was driving across the currently barren, snow-covered landscape between Hollandale and Austin.

As most could probably deduce from the album title “Hollandale,” it was a fitting backdrop for the album.

Parr, an Austin native who now lives in Duluth, released his latest album “Hollandale” earlier this year. At first glance, Parr’s new album looks like five-track EP, and Spotify lists it as singles rather than with his other albums. But don’t be fooled, as this five-track instrumental clocks in at more than 40 minutes.

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Parr recorded the album at Alan Sparhawk’s home in Duluth. The singer-guitarist from Low helped produce the album and plays electric guitar on a few tracks. Most of the songs, like “I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night,” feature Parr on a driving, building guitar. In an interview posted on his website, Parr said the album is improvisations built around variations of open D and open C tuning.

“Here I started with a tuning, and maybe a couple of phrases, and then improvised the rest,” he said in the online interview.

After recently watching the Academy Award-nominated film, “Nebraska,” Parr’s “Hollandale” could be a darker, more brooding soundtrack to a similar film set around Hollandale and southern Minnesota.

“Nebraska” was shot in black and white and features several long shots of the vast, expansive Midwestern landscapes. Similarly, Parr, in the interview on his website, said he would start playing the tracks for this album and would let his mind wander and titled the songs about what he was thinking about. At one point, Parr thought about the expansive land and slight hills near Hollandale, where he spent lot of time in his youth with family.

When talking about Hollandale — the city and the inspiration for the track and album title — he described it as an island of trees amidst the fields, with rich farmland, rolling hills and yard lights that can be seen for miles

“Hollandale” is looking out over the fields, the town is like an island in the middle of them, and imagining what it was like when it was all swamp and then thinking ahead to when they were drained for farmland,” Parr said.

Parr said the song “I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night” was about a nightmare with Paul Bunyan terrorizing him on a walk.

The album still features hints of Parr’s bluesy twang. But, it’s fitting of the rural landscape. It features several repetitive rhythms with slight blips in the variations, but there’s no major shifts in sound and no melodies. Parr’s guitar plays with a steely urgency, but it adapts and progresses gradually.

It’s a perfect soundtrack for a thoughtful drive.


Track listing

1. I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night

2. Hollandale

3. I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night Part 2

4. Barn Swallows at Twilight

5. Clearlake