Rockingham Records/Thirty Tigers
3.5 out of 5 stars
Charlie Mars’ biography on his publicist’s website starts off with, “I know people think, ‘Oh great, another guy with an acoustic guitar.’” Truth be told, that was one of my initial thoughts as well, and in fact, the first track on his new album Blackberry Light, “Let The Meter Run,” to me sounded like someone following the footsteps of the Jack Johnson’s of the world — a mix of surfy acoustic summer pop that, while solid, failed to make any lasting connection.
But the second track on the album, “How I Roll,” takes a sharp cut away from that style and each track thereafter reveals more of the depth of the record. “How I Roll” is a funked up track, has an almost EDM foundation, and that departure, coupled with Mars’ poppy lyrics, finds the ensuing songs a 180-degree turn from that aforementioned Jack Johnson style.
The Oxford, Miss. singer/songwriter continues switching gears and feeling with “Nothing But The Rain,” which takes an admitted turn toward Daniel Lanois’ library. With ambient Lanois-inspired production, Mars takes what should be a simple singer/songwriter arrangement on “Nothing But The Rain” and couples it with layer upon layer of what Mars calls “a percussive, atmospheric tone” that makes the song resonate way more than it could have with just an acoustic guitar.
So, after that first sentence of his bio, Mars continues, “What I really want to say to them is, ‘Not so quick. Just one minute. That’s not what this is.’” Blackberry Light continues to prove that claim over and over. Even the track “Back of the Room,” which lyrically could have been stolen from an amalgam of Johnson, Jason Mraz and Citizen Cope, finds itself stepping away from those artists with the accompaniment of Hammond organ and a driving beat that many of those artists tend to eschew.
Recorded at Texas Treefort Studios in Austin with producer Billy Harvey (Bob Schneider), keyboardist John Ginty (Santana, Citizen Cope), bassists George Reiff (Ian Moore, Steve Poltz) and Dave Monzie (Fiona Apple), and drummers J.J. Johnson (John Mayer, Tedeschi Trucks Band) and Dony Wynn (Robert Plant, Robert Palmer), Mars focused on live recording and even grabbed the very first recording of “How I Roll.” “That was it,” Mars said in a press release. “We never did it again.”
Throughout the album, Mars’ different approach on each song again goes back to shedding that notion of “Oh great, another guy with an acoustic guitar,” and nowhere does he do so with such seeming effortlessness as on the closing track “Great Wall of China.” The song catches all of the high points of Mars as a songwriter and the album as a full project, and couples it with all of his Lanois-based influences to ultimately produce a gorgeous song that serves as a perfect cap for the album. If Mars can continue down the track of “Great Wall of China” he may never have to hear ‘Oh great’ ever again. — BFJ
:: Soiled Dove Underground :: August 9 ::