Mark Charles – Calamity Strikes
This came a little late to me but it’s worth a word or two. Ohio-born, Louisville, Kentucky-based multi-instrumentalist Mark Charles has a nice debut set of 10 songs (released on 12” vinyl also) recorded over a 2-year stretch between Louisville, KY & Brooklyn, NY with Grammy-nominated producer & co-writer Justin Craig.
Charles has been the lead singer with a respected D.C. indie-alt/folk band Vanderveer since 2006. The band’s been on hiatus & has had a colorful career. They backed Ringo Starr in 2016 on 2 of his own tracks when they performed at Ringo’s Peace & Love Gathering.
The opener has a lilting melody & dated instrumentation but a strong lead vocal & charming arrangement that’s catchy. Some would consider this pop music, but the stinging lead guitar elevates it past that comparison. Mark’s lyrics are well-developed. The attraction here is the dynamic backup singers who really give it a lift besides Mark’s soulful vocals. His voice needs a backup that is thicker. I suspect it will come.
I like Mark Charles’ voice; his tone is full-bodied & has personality. It’s the happy-go-lucky instrumentation that detracts from his power on the early cuts. A more ass-kicking showcase would allow Mark to really deliver with authority & not with diverse blends of commerciality. His voice is soulful & has mainstream resonance but the songs purr when they should bark. This isn’t a voice deserving of synths & cheesy electric pianos. Charles is perfect for a backup with a rollicking upright piano or commanding grand piano. I’m patient.
“The Pugilist,” is among a few tunes here that have a flirtation with nice brass touches. This is slow, but it percolates. Mark’s voice has a bracing tone. This is an excellent ballad with 60s thrust & features Mark in a distinguished light sung with precision & grace. Not as powerful as William Topley (“Delta Rain”) but he has that fascination with these slower songs. The man has style.
Calamity Strikes (Dropped Oct 7–Ramshackler/Upward Spiral Music) as it progresses maintains exemplary melodies, easy listening qualities & performances — even cruises into a Spanish-flavored “Different Names,” with its old-fashioned Euro-melodic route & any lyricist who uses a word like “estuary” is an excellent writer.
Highlights – “The Pugilist,” “Square In the Eye,” “Different Names,” “Giving In To Gravity,” (solid 60s pop quality), & “Coast To Coast,” (luxurious brass).
Music samples/purchases available @ https://markcharles.bandcamp.com/album/calamity-strikes
Photo courtesy of Mike’s Facebook. CD @ https://www.markcharlesmusic.com/store