Mississippi singer and songwriter Charlie Mars  is coming to Zanzabar next Wednesday, June 2, supporting his new release, Like a Bird, Like a Plane. Although this is technically his fifth album, it has the feel of a reboot. His first three were independent releases; he then signed with the major label V2 (before it folded) for his fourth, self-titled release. Back again to his independent roots and having put some personal struggles behind him, he teamed with some pretty good musicians from other bands to record Like a Bird, including drummer J.J. Johnson (John Mayer), keyboardist John Ginty (Citizen Cope), and bass players George Reiff (Jakob Dylan) and Dave Monzie (Fiona Apple). In addition to singing, Mars himself plays guitar and piano. This is his first headlining tour with a full band.
Like a Bird opens with the title track , a slow grooving number that sets the dominant mood of the album -- dark and smoky with sexy rhythms -- both intimate and soulful . The lyrics explore longing, whether for love, sex, wholeness, or escape. And sometimes the longing is just for someone to come over and listen to some Pink Floyd. "Listen to the Darkside" extends the invitation, "If you wanna come over, come over and get high, we can listen to the Dark Side of the Moon." I don't know, but I'm thinking Pink Floyd could be a euphemism for something else. (And it doesn't hurt if your video stars Mary Louise Parker in leather jacket and high-heeled boots.)
Another steamy album standout is "Meet Me by the Backdoor" with a funky beat and slinking keys and guitar, driving home the message that there might be something illicit going on. Not everything leads directly to the bedroom, though. The quietly introspective "Clocking Out" muses on the idea of escape from the every day, accompanied by delicate acoustic guitar.
Mars' vocals are effortlessly laid-back, snaking smoothly among the sinuous rhythms, finding the right notes of passion, melancholy, and suggestiveness that the lyrics call for. With this album Mars has said that he hoped to create the kind of music that would be "at the center of an experience that people have dancing around a giant bonfire." I think he hit pretty close to the mark with this one -- an album to play on a hot summer's night with some cool beverages and, ideally, a squeeze by your side.
Louisville singer Andrea Davidson  opens for Charlie Mars at Zanzabar  next Wednesday at 9:00 p.m., and tickets are available for $10 at the door, at ear-X-tacy, and via ticketfly.com .