Written by Joseph McSpadden / Photography by David McClister

RAMBLING MAN Charlie Mars has lived, as he likes to say, in a lot of places for short periods of time, but he always comes home to Mississippi. Born in Laurel, the forty-nine-year-old Mars spent time in Nashville, Austin, New York City, and Sweden, to name a few of the stops on his journey. But the call of his home state keeps luring him back, this time to Yalobusha county.

   While in high school Mars parents moved the family to Jackson. Around this time, he joined a band. After graduation he went to Southern Methodist University where he sought out other musicians. He formed the Charlie Mars Band and released the album Broken Arrow in 1995. Two more CMB releases followed, but by the start of the century the party life found Mars needing help. After time in rehab for alcohol, he emerged seeking a fresh start, and moved to Sweden. He returned to recording with 2004’s self-titled release. 

LUCK OF THE DRAW Mars has something going with Lady Luck. That, or perhaps Divine Providence. Despite the collapse of the record industry and the rise of streaming platforms, Mars has found a way to make a living as a musician. He acknowledges, in his Mississippi drawl, that fortuitous events had a part to play. “There were times where, if something hadn’t come through, things might have turned out different.”

   That might sound like humility, or exaggeration, but consider he has always been a bit of a gambler. In fact, he once won $26,000 in casinos and used that windfall to go into the studio and cut a record. And it hasn’t hurt to have his songs appear in movies and television shows. He also stumbled into good fortune playing around in cryptocurrencies a few years back.

   Mars has earned critical acclaim for his honest lyrics and stripped-down performances. These days Mars performs solo, preferring the intimacy of venues tailored for acoustic shows. He refers to himself as a weekend warrior. “These days I go out for ten days at a time, then I’m back home. This year I will be traveling a little more though, with the new record coming out.”

   Coming home has come to mean more to Mars in recent years. After spending time in New York Mars began to pine for a more rural existence. He sought to move away from the bright lights big city social scene that comes with dating a famous actress. (Mars’ three-year relationship with actress Mary Louise Parker ended in 2012).

HOME AGAIN Mars has chosen to embrace country living. That choice is reflected in the ten tracks on Times Have Changed. His early influences were a mixture of country, singer-songwriter, and grunge. Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and the Band were formative, along with Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown. Mars also cites Springsteen and REM as influential in the development of his own music. 

   “These artists walked this fine line… I call it Appalachian Country Western music combined with classic 70s singer-songwriter. My music has always leaned toward a country sound, but what is real country?” These days Mars prefers the Americana tag to describe his sound. “Americana is more rooted in Appalachian music. Appalachian is a bit funkier, it has more of a groove.”

   The desire for a slower pace of life, and a more intentional way of living drew Mars back to Mississippi. The bright lights Mars sees these days are the stars hanging above his home and his 43 acres in Yalobusha county. But what really brought him there was something else altogether. Mars fell in love.

FOOLED AROUND AND FELL IN LOVE During the covid shutdown Mars made a connection that changed his life. Mars loves dogs, big dogs. In this case, an enormous Cane Corso mastiff. Mars had been following a Brazilian breeder online when another fortuitous event occurred. Mars was playing around in crypto and got lucky. He put some money into a dog-themed crypto called Shiba Inu and scored. He took it as a sign and had a fifteen-week-old mastiff puppy shipped all the way from Brazil. It was love from the get-go.

   Of course, Mars now had a new set of priorities. Love will do that to you. Mars knew what he needed was land, room for this massive beast to roam. Mastiffs are one of the protective breeds and tend to be fiercely loyal and territorial. Mars settled on a Quonset house on top of the highest point in Yalobusha county. 

   The dog, affectionately named Kudzu, after his friend Parker Posey’s family pet, is now 160 pounds of boundless energy. That has led Kudzu to mix it up with the neighbor dogs on occasion. But Mars gets on well with his neighbors. He doesn’t live in an artist’s community these days; his neighbors are dairy farmers. In fact, Mars so admires their country values that he made a short mini-documentary about their life on the farm and posted it on YouTube.

   The title track finds Mars asking questions. “What happened to no sir, yes ma’am/ looking folks in the eye/ to family and the good Lord/ and thanking Him every night?” It is to his credit that Mars isn’t wanting to turn back the clock to “back in the day.” But, as he says in the song, it isn’t that he didn’t want things to change, it is that we may have changed too much, and forgotten where we have come from. 

   That sense of multi-generational family living is losing out to modernity. As he sings on Country Home

     Like my Papaw on the tractor me a bouncing on his knee 

     Making my way to the country store to find a little something sweet 

     Mamaw she rocking on that front porch the dog is tripping on a bone

     I finally got out and I found myself 

     Found myself a country home