3 out of 5 stars
“There’s something trancelike about sitting your songs on top of a groove … it’s allowed me to sink a little deeper into the material,” says Charlie Mars in the notes that accompany the third in what he calls his Texas trilogy. He’s backed by the same musicians as on the previous two and you can sense the easy flowing synergy between them on these 11 tracks.
That restrained vibe is slathered over every one of these 38 minutes as Mars’ boyish voice floats above the slinky, low key instrumentation. Many of these songs look back on his life growing up in a small town with an emphasis on romantic encounters both positive (the delightful “Oh Girl” where he compares his love to a river and running wild horses) and less so (“Danger Danger” finds the protagonist giving his heart to a stranger). The melodies feel as lived in as the lyrics and linger long after the last note fades.
But that sameness in production is also a bit of a liability. With everything dialed down to a similar even keel, the songs tend to run together. Where the best albums generally mix tempos and moods, The Money spends its running time ambling at the same languid pace. While it’s a cozy place to be, songs such as the wonderful “Pride Before the Fall” gracefully drift and float by but nearly get lost in the comparable style of the previous six cuts. Thankfully the title track, a sad folksy tune about cash helping a flawed relationship that cannot be saved by an influx of dollars (basically, money can’t buy you love) connects due to wonderfully minimalist lyrics and an elusively catchy chorus. Mars tells that story in under 3 minutes with his sweet, homespun, youthful voice tinged with hurt. That’s all he needs to convey a detailed slice of life that feels real and perhaps personal.
A few more musical variations might have helped this set with a much needed diversity and still maintained that groove Mars loves. But like the late Jesse Winchester, Mars is a master of subtlety and a songwriter of relaxed, easy elegance that he takes to the bank with wit and charm on The Money.