19 January 2011

2010: Charlie Parr, Curren$y

Charlie Parr
When the Devil Goes Blind
Released October 19, 2010 (Nero’s Neptune Records)

Short Notes: Northern Minnesotan bluesman’s latest is equal parts delta-style and the grittier end of the folk revival.

Brandon: B+

Charlie Parr is an unlikely guy to be touring internationally (Australia and the UK, on the back of a 2008 song used in an Australian mobile phone ad) and playing with indie luminaries like Low. His style of music isn’t terribly hip--he plays something like the blues, a hybrid of delta signifiers and folk moves reminiscent of guys like Spider John Koerner. It’s also pretty decent. He’s not breaking any new ground, and I don’t quite like this record as well as I like somewhat similar work by Iowa’s own William Elliot Whitmore (who Lin and I both would praise to the ends of the earth, and who exhibits a bit more stylistic variation), but if you enjoy dark, energetic music that blends blues and folk influences, this is worth tracking down.

Lin: B

I imagine it's difficult performing in a genre that has a long history without a whole lot of change to it -- I know it's hard being a critic to these albums. History has codified a variety of rules that need to be followed: ignore them and risk not being taken seriously or follow them and risk being nothing special. Either way, you'll be endlessly compared by folks like me to what came before since one of my fundamental questions as a critic is: why ought I listen to your album instead of your progenitors or something I like more?

So, When The Devil Goes Blind is a good album -- he's a strong songwriter and musician -- but there's nothing here that wasn't done 50 years ago. I can't help but compare him to one of my favorite current musicians, William Elliott Whitmore, who does much the same thing: solo banjo and voice, Americana, dark tales of redemption. The big difference to my ears is that Whitmore has an aching voice, one that adds multiple dimensions of emotion (usually heartbreak) to the lyrics. Mr. Parr lacks this distinctive timbre, which leaves the album far short of essential, comfortably in the "a good distraction if you're into it" area.

Pilot Talk/Pilot Talk II
Released July 13/November 22, 2010 (DD127)

Short Notes: Unestablished New Orleans rapper makes a good and critically acclaimed album that is ultimately unexciting.

Brandon: B

The two new Curren$y albums were two of the best-received non-mainstream hip-hop records of the year, which isn’t at all surprising after my first listen. Apparently, he’s been around, for just less than forever--with No Limit (!), with Weezy before Tha Carter III, and now on a Def Jam subsidiary--putting out records, appearing on everybody’s tracks, and most recently, working with another one of the year’s big indie rap stars, Wiz Khalifa. He’s got decent flow, interesting, jazzy beats, and wickedly clever lyrics, all built (as good indie rap is) around elaborate second-tier pop culture references, weird metaphors (the whole pilot/plane thing), and weed.

So why only a B (for both records, or individually)? Because, at the end of the day, I’m an M.O.P. fan, that’s why. Because these are atmospheric, mood records filled with mid-tempo songs, and I want to know where the bangers are. Almost any one of the best songs on either record (I was especially partial to “Seat Change” [ft. Snoop Dogg] and “The Day” [ft. Mos Def and Jay Electronica] on the first record, and “Silence” and “Fashionably Late” on the second) would be great in a mix, playing at the bar, or coming on my shuffle at home. But 13 straight tracks that are all on the same vibe gets a little old for me. So if you like good hip-hop, these are worth a listen. But you got to cut ‘em with something that moves a little, just for the variety.

Lin: B

I don't have a much to add to Brandon's review -- he says essentially what I was going to say. This is very much a "weed" album, which doesn't do a whole lot for me. I want something that is more aggressive or more weird or more noisy or more something; I can only take so much of the 'laid back' vibe without it hitting some sort of higher emotional- or contentment-plane (i.e. post-rock). I can see why folks like this -- it's a well made album and Curren$y is a strong rapper (despite the punctuation in his name). Listening to both I and II back-to-back probably leads me to like this album less, as at the end it felt like work. To make this review even more boring, I even agree with Brandon's track picks: "Silence" on II is my favorite from either disk and "Sea Change" the best from the first. There's a few other tracks that would work well in other contexts (...mixtapes) like "Michael Knight" or "Chilled Coughee," the latter with Devin The Dude, but it's ultimately too much of the same thing.

1 comment:

man with no name said...

I listened to this Whitmore fellow a bit. Pris, I'll be willing to entertain arguments as to how he outshines Charlie Parr when you're up visiting.