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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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In Music

Charlie Parr, Duluth's beloved lo-fi picker, to perform at the Cactus Club.

Charlie Parr brings mix of blues, folk and gospel to Cactus Club


Duluth's most-loved lo-fi blues and traditional musician Charlie Parr will perform at the Cactus Club, 2496 S. Wentworth Ave., on Wednesday, June 6. New York folk and Americana band O'Death shares the bill. Admission to the show is $10.

Parr's setlist for the Cactus Club show will include a variety of old stuff he's taken a recent interest in and a few songs he's working on for the upcoming "Barn Swallow" album. He'll also play a few of the gospel songs (from both of his gospel albums and possibly others) that fans of his live performances have come to expect.

"They always make it in every time I play. But mostly I do what I feel like playing at the time," says Parr, who's performed in Milwaukee before. "I've played Cactus Club a few times and Garibaldi's down the street. I like eating at the Palomino very much."

Parr played at Linneman's Riverwest Inn, 1001 E. Locust St., before that and says he enjoys Jim Linneman's company.

"I've always had good experiences coming to Milwaukee. I'm looking forward to it and to hearing O'Death perform," says Parr.

Parr's latest album is "Keep Your Hands on the Plow," which features backing vocals from his spouse, Emily, the band Four Mile Portage and additional electric guitars and drums from Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, slowcore veterans from the band Low.

"Keep Your Hands on the Plow" is primarily an album of old gospel songs, but also includes a couple traditional folk and a chain gang song.

This is the folk picker's second gospel album. His 2010 album with the Virginia-based string band Black Twig Pickers, "Glory in the Meeting House," was almost entirely comprised of traditional gospel songs.

Parr loves gospel, but for musical and familial reasons.

"I'm not a real churchy person, don't happen to go, but mom and dad liked old gospel and I grew to know all the words. I got all these collections of pre-war gospel songs from them. The music just vibrates with me and I've been including it in my sets for years and years," says Parr.

Parr enjoyed working with Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, and it wasn't the first time. They've toured and worked on a few side projects together.

Sparhawk gave Parr, who usually plays acoustic or a banjo, an electric guitar and even went to his house and set it up for him. Parr hated the electric so much he got rid of it after just 10 days.

"I looked at what was involved and decided he might as well have handed me an oboe; I just couldn't get it, everything was so different, sound is coming from somewhere other than the guitar, etc., it was just weird," says Parr. "But I'm lucky to be friends with all those guys. Alan has been super helpful to me; he accidentally taught me a lot of stuff just by how he handles himself in studio."

Parr usually plays a National resonator guitar and a 12-string that Todd Cambio, of Fraulini Guitars in Madison, built for him.

"Cambio makes guitars with an eye to the past, specifically 1900 to 1920; they're all handmade and just beautiful," says Parr.

Cambio made a reproduction of Leadbelly's guitar.

Parr has two kids, a 5-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy. His kids go to same swimming class as Sparhawk's and Parker's kids.

Lately Parr's been engaged in a lot of end-of-school stuff and is planning to keep the kids away from video games with some Duluth-area summer activities.

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