I get a lot of albums sent to me for review. The vast majority are things that I’ve requested from publicists or record labels. Occasionally, though, a person whose taste I trust will recommend an artist who I’m not familiar with, and I’ll part with some precious listening time to check him out. That’s the way it happened with Charlie Mars, and his new album Like A Bird, Like A Plane (Rockingham/Thirty Tigers).
Mars is singer/songwriter who was raised in Laurel, Mississippi. This is technically his fifth album, but one that he’d like to treat as a new start. In 1999, after releasing his third album, End of Romance, he found himself burned out on pills and alcohol, and entered rehab. When he got out, he headed for Sweden, where he enjoyed his anonymity, performing for local crowds. While there he wrote the songs that would lead to his self-titled major label debut on V2 Records, which was released in 2004.
After V2 folded, and its artist roster was cut, Mars set out for Austin, looking for musicians who could produce the sound he was hearing in his head. “I started to feel less inspired by traditional rock, and pulled toward the snaky, sinewy, sensuality of groove,” Mars said. His success in finding the perfect musicians to “form four corners instead of facing straight ahead,” is evident on every track of this album.
When it comes to groove, Mars doesn’t just talk the talk. What sets him apart from your standard groovemeister is the sense of late night mystery that seems to come straight from the Mississippi backwoods. There’s a certain darkness in his sound that he shares with fellow southerners Kings of Leon, though Mars’ music is more organic. He has a knack for writing a chorus that sticks to you like pine tar.
Drummer J.J. Johnson lays down a mighty beat, something akin to a slowed down New Orleans second line, on “What Are You Looking For?”. “Banging On Your Door” is a downbeat tale of heartache and obsession.
It’s that indefinable darkness that keeps this music interesting, and prevents it from falling into the stoner territory occupied by people like Jack Johnson. The songs creep into your soul and stay with you after you’re done listening. Get this music, then jump in your car one night. Go someplace where it’s dark and quiet. Play it.