I need guidance in life. There are difficult decisions every week and I usually make them alone. But I don’t make them alone, decisions are made based on experiences, based on histories and based on lessons learned along the way. I grew up going to church but as an adult I find spiritual guidance in art. Words from Kristofferson and Shaver shape the way I think. I have learned perspective, empathy and acceptance of faults from songwriters. I call a handful of them my spiritual advisers. Knowing that many of my spiritual advisers are aging or have passed, I am always on the lookout for wise sages to gleam lessons from.
Enter the music of Charlie Parr. There is a connection within his songs, something that can not be quantified within the eleven songs on Stumpjumper. One of the things that makes Parr unique in my collection of lessons is that he uses his voice to convey as much empathy and understanding as his words do. Allow yourself to be hypnotized by the combination of his playing and vocal delivery and your understanding of emotion will be heightened. It’s powerful. And captivating. And real.
I realize that I have yet to tell you what Stumperjumper sounds like but that’s what we have mp3s for. What matters to me is how the music changes the way I think about myself and others. “Remember Me If I Forget” repeats the song title in the chorus so often that it becomes a part of my life, a mantra for late nights or lonely mornings. It’s a song to play for those in your life that truly matter, a reminder that even in our most self-centered moments there are others thinking of us and about us. They will remember our actions and remind us of our purpose. It serves as a rallying cry that we are not alone, that we are responsible to others and to ourselves. On the right day the words and music can bring me to tears.
There is celebration of life and nature in “Over The Red Cedar.” Longevity in things around us can create comfort, a reminder that our struggles don’t define us. With the line “the red cedar grows/and long after your gone/it’s outlasting you” what I hear is about struggles. It might feel daunting to think that our struggles will outlast us but I find comfort in the line. Struggle will always be there and there is nothing we can do to eliminate them. I don’t know what you hear but what I hear is comfort, comfort in knowing that what feels big and overwhelming today is inconsequential in the grand scheme.
I’m as guilty as anyone about dwelling on the present, the past and the enormity of the moment but Parr’s frantic finger picking provides a calmness. I know that thought probably sounds like a contradiction but turn the music up louder and listen to your heart. Parr’s fingers work with a fury over the strings and it works to circle the troubles in my mind with a soft blanket or a gentle hug. If you don’t believe me just come over to my living room just after sunset on a bad day. We’ll listen to Stumpjumper or Mingus and I promise you’ll find balance and resolution in the ebb and flow of frantic notes and the eventual calming of the melody.
I can not recommend Stumpjumper enough. I’ve played for all kinds of music fans and they all gravitate toward the songs and the sounds. Maybe that says something about the blues, maybe it says something about Charlie Parr as an artist, maybe it says something about us listeners. Most likely it’s a combination of all of that. Listen to Stumpjumper, listen to it loud, listen to it over and over. Let me know what you take away from this spectacular record. Essential Listening.