The rough-and-ready sound of Charlie Parr's banjo and guitar work is exactly the kind of aesthetic that's not meant to age -- or rather, is meant to make a sound appear somehow timeless however much it's captured on an optical disc read by lasers. Larger philosophical points aside, When the Devil Goes Blind finds Parr further honing his self-consciously traditional aesthetic, something that's not about radical reinvention, whether it's his half-holler, half-family circle singing or the general look of the release via such elements as the sepia-tinted cover photo, but which in its lyrics is clearly about radicalism of a classic American kind. Parr is obviously dedicated to his craft and it's often about the individual moment of skill and flair in the structure he works in -- the sudden up-and-down parts on "Where You Gonna Be (When the Good Lord Calls You)," the descending breaks between verses on "Up Country Blues," the slow introduction to "I Was Lost Last Night." He also knows that an album can work best with variety in the sequencing -- after a series of quick performances he takes the slower, more contemplative route on "For the Drunkard's Mother," which in its own way also feels like a sudden modernizing of the overall album, like a quiet moment from Pearl Jam circa 1998. (And while it's a bit much to say that Parr has developed an Eddie Vedder-esque yarl, there's a sudden shock at times on songs like "Mastodon" when you realize how close it can be.) Similarly, "1890" feels much more 2010, Parr's switch to a speak-singing and the gentle tones of the guitar achieving a calm delicacy even as he sings a harrowing lyric about Native American slaughter in the Old West.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett