If you had to take a shot in the dark and name the top 5 most famous country acts, historically, could you do it? For bonus points, are any of the top 5 still actively performing and recording music? I’m just asking rhetorically, I can’t do it myself, but if you find out the answer will you let me know?
Now, I’m starting this review off in jest but there’s certainly been a distinct lack of country headliners in the past decade or so. Not counting the indie darlings The Lumineers or Mumford & Sons, and barely counting Lil Nas X with his one country smash-hit single “Old Town Road” that was remixed seventy-eight times (and that’s a conservative underestimate), acts in the genre such as Kacey Musgraves and company aren’t pushing the same numbers as Shania Twain, Garth Brooks, and Toby Keith used to. I think a big part of that is due to the missing ingredient: authenticity.
All popular music is theatrics (wrestling isn’t real, either), and almost none of it comes from firsthand experience, but at the turn of the century, there seemed to be collective disbelief or shared fantasy tied to these artists that allowed fans to get down to their music as a form of relatability. Well, in my search for modern country stars, I came across Mark Henry Ham. Upon checking out his album Casper, Mark Henry Ham gave me something actually born out of experience and artistry, and it was great! Imagine that! For all the dejected fans of modern country that are searching for something real and earnest, Casper is the album for you.
Across its twelve tracks, Casper captures country music from all its best angles. There are the songs you’d bring with you to a party, like the opening track “Oh Simone” and the throwback song destined to be a fan favorite “Whatever Happened To Katie,” and songs you can keep just for yourself, like “You” and “Be By My Side.” A wide berth of emotions is explored, and each song seemingly one-ups what came before. “Green Light” paints the portrait of Ham stuck in gridlocked traffic at a red light, seething with road rage, and the result is a nearly full-on punk rock track that could be an absolute hit at live performances, both in volume and in crowd work. “Dreaming Bout You Again” is a fantastic poppier track for the album, and it piggybacks off of “Oh Simone” to great effect.
Mark Henry Ham isn’t coming to Casper with the idea of saving rock ’n’ roll or reclaiming the genre from a bygone subculture; he seems to approach every second of Casper with nothing but love for his contemporaries and country-rock ancestors, and that unabashed positivity is exactly what gives Casper the two feet it needs to stand on in the dog-eat-dog world of modern music. There’s a great album to be heard, and while some of it zigs and zags away from what traditional country might be classified as, there’s no denying that Mark Henry Ham is a country-rock musician, through and through.