From the sunny streets of Los Angeles (and the worn vinyl grooves of the 1970s) emerges Pearl Charles, a charmingly cosmic songwriter with a flair for luscious hooks. To any modern ear, Charles’ voice and mystical prose seem anachronistic, but that’s part of what makes her so special, especially now.
At times resembling Fleetwood Mac, at others Bonnie Raitt, Charles’ latest effort, Magic Mirror, is a consistently enjoyable record filled to the brim with youthful interpretations of classic structures. Somehow, Charles manages to pay homage to the heroes of yore (ABBA and Todd Rundgren among them) without appearing derivative or unoriginal. Instead, her latest collection of songs sounds more like a musical mosaic than anything.
In particular, “Sweet Sunshine Wine” (which plays like a saloon-drowned version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me”) and “Slipping Away” highlight her mellow voice set against lush instrumentation. Elsewhere, Charles channels Joni Mitchell on the record’s title track while playing it safer on “What I Need” and “Only for Tonight,” the latter of which plays like a spiritual sequel to “Dancing Queen.”
In addition to the typical bubblegum rhythm section one expects from a record of this genre, Charles integrates a purring pedal steel guitar and warbly keyboard pads to lengthen her sonic reach, both courtesy of Michael Rault. The instrumental assortment is by no means groundbreaking, but it is, if nothing else, a slight expansion on what’s expected.
Lyrically, Charles’ narratives aren’t always engaging. On “Take Your Time,” for instance, the chorus boasts some catchy lines that are repeated just one time too many. It is, after all, a poppier record, so some lyrical dwelling is to be expected, but its prevalence was occasionally disappointing. Still, this is hardly a factor that limits the impact of Charles’ songwriting; even if the lyrics are to be taken as melodic placeholders, the contours within which they exist are pleasant enough not to be wholly hinged on their associated words.
After all is said and done, Magic Mirror is an excellent exhibition of Pearl Charles’ simplistic songwriting that features divine arrangements with gorgeous vocal performances. Though releasing in January, it could easily be a perfect summer album that fits into a California summer afternoon. Either way, Charles’ rich and buoyant optimism is just what the world needed after a dark year. It’s more than just fun, it’s downright delightful.