MANKATO — Charlie Parr doesn’t want to get too mystical.
That’s not his style.
Parr is more about long beards and faded flannels, lentil curry cooked on the manifold of his touring van and some construction paper and a pencil to write his thoughts.
Really, he doesn’t get too mystical. But ...
“I love playing the guitar. I really do,” said the 45-year-old Duluth bluesman (and Austin native) who has a handful of upcoming performances in the area.
“Even when I play too much and my hand aches. It’s like a life force thing. I don’t want to get too mystical, but it’s absolutely the best thing I do. Even if I wasn’t performing, I’d still be picking in the kitchen.”
Parr released his first album in 2002, the critically well-received “Criminals and Sinners” which introduced him as a musician whose style was embedded in the music rather than some stage hologram.
Deriving his inspiration from long-forgotten Alan Lomax recordings and obscure blues pioneers, Parr jettisons all elements of personal style in favor of musical purity.
He unabashedly excuses himself from the business aspects of making music. He once repaired the neck of a broken guitar by fastening it to the body with popsicle sticks. When an Australian commercial featuring his music went viral, Parr embarked on a handful of tours. But he was a reluctant participant -- not because he minded playing, but because he felt he had nothing to offer his newfound fans but the music.
“It was kind of weird,” said Parr about the 2008 Vodafone commercial that featured his song “1922” and prompted a series of tours with yet another edition scheduled in November.
“Especially because, when I go there, all they see is some mopey, old guy. You feel like you’re supposed to do something to live up to what they want. But I’ve never been able to ham it up much.”
Parr, the man, is stripped down and no nonsense -- an unplugged and acoustic version (if you will) of the human form. His music matches.
If cotton field balladeers, front-porch Piedmont blues pickers, Sunday gospel singers, migrants, box-car hobos and oppressive tax men were thrown in a whiskey still and left to ferment over decades untarnished by pop impurities and marketing ploys, you’d open the spigot and Parr would run out.
A tour of his musical catalogue unearths poignant, poetic narratives like “Cheap Wine,” stinging banjo-fueled licks like “South of Austin, North of Lyle” and impassioned, foot-stomping gospel traditionals like “Ain’t No Grave (Can Hold My Body Down).”
Parr said his next album will be recorded this month. Though he’s struggled at times in preparation -- he canceled three previous recording sessions -- Parr said he felt at his songwriting best for the upcoming effort.
He said the album will recall his earlier work while also incorporating unexpected elements with new instruments and some ragtime influence. But the sound, he said, will remain unmistakable.
Parr said he wrote much of the music for his new record on a batch of vintage construction paper his daughter found. And he’ll continue his habit of recording in non-studio spaces. The upcoming album will be recorded at an art center in Winona. Others have been recorded in garages, store fronts and living rooms.
“It will sound like a lot of the stuff I do,” Parr said. “I’m really not too interested in getting too Pink Floyd on anybody.”
Though a severe case of tendinitis has forced Parr to change his picking style, he has no plans to pack up. He’s booked about a dozen shows a month throughout the rest of the year, including two in Mankato this month.
When Parr was a teenager, he used to come to Mankato to play in a regular game of penny-ante poker. He still arrives early for his shows so he can walk the river.
“I love coming to Mankato,” he said. “I love all of Minnesota. It’s just got this strangle-hold on me.”