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An Intimate Evening with Charlie Mars
December 8, 2017 @ 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm CDT$25
Tickets: $25 (Call 251-367-4599 to reserve)
The Money, the final volume in Charlie Mars’ Texas trilogy (out Oct. 14 on Rockingham Records/Thirty Tigers), opens with a scene of cinematic vividness. “Looking out a rainy window/In a hotel in Caroline/Drinking free coffee, smoking that smoke/From an apple by the exit sign.” He called the song “Hell Yeah,” a Rebel yell from this Oxford, Mississippi, resident not of celebration but of recognition. Maybe you, too, have found yourself far from home and feeling very alone, seeking relief in the substances at hand, exhaling out the open window as a practical measure. In those four lines, jotted down in a Hampton Inn in Greenwood, South Carolina, moments later, we find Mars (or a protagonist who closely resembles him) resuming his zigzagging trek through the darkness in search of the light. It’s a theme as old as The Odyssey, laid out in crisp contemporary verse over a lowdown, hickory-smoked backbeat, in the tradition of fellow Southern minimalists Tony Joe White and J.J. Cale.
The Texas trilogy (so named because the first two albums were cut in Austin, the latest one at Sonic Ranch outside of El Paso, all with Billy Harvey as producer and core musicians J.J. Johnson, John Ginty, and George Reiff) began with the ironically titled Like a Bird, Like a Plane, released in 2009, two years after the record label Mars had been signed to went out of business, leaving him no choice but to go DIY. It was the best thing that ever happened to Charlie because, out of necessity, 12 years and five albums into his career, he found his true voice, just as he was beginning to experience life more fully. His eyes were opened to culture and possibility while spending much of the last half-decade in New York and Austin, hastening his artistic and personal maturation, reflected in the songs that were coming out of him along the way.
“I always felt that music was gonna let me escape from those things in life that had let me down,” Charlie reflects. “I grew up in a bubble within a poor, impoverished state, with limited access to the outside world. And so my worldview was very Mayberry. And then, when Mayberry falls apart, you realize maybe you’re not gonna find the girl of your dreams and live happily ever after, and you’re not gonna score the winning touchdown–maybe that’s not how life pans out. All these things that you grow up believing are true, some of them are not. So Like a Bird, Like a Plane was about trying to rise out of all that, and Blackberry Light was more of a rejection; it’s a dark record. I would say that this album is about looking at those things and feeling disillusioned, but still finding the humor and the beauty and the inspiration that is inherent within them.
“I’ve realized that these are the only things in life–love, friendships, conflict, marriage, children,” he continues. “You can’t reject this stuff; there’s no escape from it. It’s not gonna be perfect, it’s not gonna be like you want, but it’s gonna be fulfilling; it’s gonna be an emotional roller-coaster, and that’s OK. Like in ‘Pride Before the Fall,’ which is the song I pored over the most, because it’s the most revealing. It says, ‘If you really love somebody/You know they could break your heart/And if you’re telling the truth/You knew it from the start.’ It’s a commentary about these things that are inherent in all our neuroses.
The narrative that plays out in the final chapter of Mars’ trilogy doesn’t have a perfect ending, because perfect endings are pipe dreams, as he notes. It concludes instead with the protagonist missing someone and hoping she’s missing him too, while at the same time imagining the daughter they didn’t have going on to repeat her parents’ mistakes, winding up with a boy like him–“running nights through Alabama/Running nights through Tennessee/Some nights she’ll be waking up/She’ll be looking over her shoulder/But don’t worry momma, don’t worry, don’t cry, cry, cry.” Now, that may not be a perfect ending in the aforementioned “happily ever after” sense, but in a literary or cinematic sense, it’s absolutely devastating.
So Charlie Mars has been through some things, just like everybody else in this mortal coil, and he’s turned it into something emotionally raw yet beautifully rendered, deeply personal yet universally relatable. Way under the radar, this guy is making serious art–and you need to know about it. You need to sit down, put your phone on airplane mode, mute the sound on the TV, crank up the stereo and listen. Because Charlie Mars is telling it the way it is.
To learn more about Charlie Mars, visit: http://www.charliemars.com/