2020 may have been the most spiteful year that I have experienced in my lifetime. Uncertainty was the one certainty we all had. The last thing I expected to add to 2020’s list of achievements was a year that produced incredible music.
Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, S.G. Goodman, Vanwyck, Dave Starke, Matt Berninger, Bonnie Light Horseman and most notable of all, Andy Shauf, released great albums. It brightened the prospects of 2020 somewhat but also cast a shadow on 2021. Would this new year be able to compete musically? It may be too soon to answer that question. A partial answer was provided a few weeks back while idling away on the internet. I jokingly typed in the search bar “the best albums of 2021”. This was mid-January and I never expected Google to furnish any results. To my surprise there was an extensive list and I rifled hungrily through it and the first thing that caught my eye was the cover of Pearl Charles Magic Mirror. It was alluring to say the least but I am interested in music and was curious to hear what Charles had to offer. From the first song to the last I could hear the quality of this record. A great sound that just appealed to my senses. I excitedly did a search to find out exactly who Charles was. At 18, she was a member of duo Driftwood Singers ( a band worth investigating), she also served a brief period in a great band called The Blank Tapes. In 2015, Charles released a self-titled EP followed by her full length debut Sleepless Dreamer in 2018.
Following the trajectory of her career is a wonder in itself. Without a doubt she has the magic touch. Magic Mirror is a fully realised work…that is apparent. The chemistry between Charles and her band members namely Michael Rault, Matt Popieluch, Dustin Bookatz, Ryan Miller, Connor Gallagher, Badeah Mac, Stewart Cole, Drew Erickson and Farmer Dave Scher is very obvious. Production by Lewis Pesacov is impeccable.
Magic Mirror is above all a very introspective album and the themes recall the line from the Sylvia Plath poem called The Mirror: “A woman bends over me, Searching my reaches for what she really is”. The line alludes to self-reflection and the internal conflict of how we see ourselves and who we actually are. Opener “Only for Tonight” grapples with the idea of a one night stand and Charles investigates whether or not she has the capacity to indulge. It is a great opener with definite disco influences.
“What I Need” is a great song. This is Charles best vocal and definitely my favourite opening line: “Seems like you’ve got something to say, but the cat’s always got your tongue.” The song focuses on a relationship that needs resuscitation and poses the question of who do we prioritize in a relationship, ourselves or the other person. The way Charles delivers the line: “ ‘Cause when I see your face it’s gonna be the last time I do” is harrowing for some reason. Her voice is really the wonder that drives this album.
The consistent 70s vibe and country influences enforced by the brilliant pedal steel is invigorating. I cannot imagine anyone not loving this album. Track 3, the Impostor is fucking wonderful….the focus here is on impostor syndrome. Charles laments: “ I keep looking for myself”. “Don’t feel like myself” is very reminiscent of The Carpenters but Charles distinctive vocals takes the song to another level of sadness. It is an absolute joy to hear how well these songs are performed. At this stage of listening, I have goosebumps the size of craters. Charles is definitely in charge.
All of this is followed by the title track. What a great song and extremely well written. The song was co-written with Morgan Nagler and it serves as the centrepiece to this great album: “ Magic mirror, tell me true i keep tripping into you/Sick and tired of being lost and misconstrued/My eyes are red, my heart is blue” Here Charles voice invokes all kinds of emotions. It is beautifully sung once again. Lyrically it blows me away particularly the following lines: “ Magic mirror, what can I do?/I’ve been lost inside of you/I’m a magnet for your twisted point of view.” These lines tie all the songs together nicely to create a cohesive feel. The title track is followed by “Slipping Away” which recalls Fleetwood Mac. Track 7, “All The Way” is a stunning bouncy track reminiscent of Captain and Tennille. Its thrilling listening to this.
Standout tracks are definitely “ Take Your Time” and “Sweet Sunshine Wine”. The former is incredible on all levels and once again highlights that Charles is at the peak of her powers. “Sweet Sunshine Wine” can only be described as “summery”. It makes me want to shove my head out of a car window and just feel the scent of the sea whipping my skin. It is an incredible song and the band perform incredibly here. Closing track, “As Long as You’re Mine” makes use of biblical allusion, particularly the book of Revelations. Unexpected but incredible.
The strength of Magic Mirror is the musicianship, amazing songwriting and ,as mentioned, Charles singing. Once the album ends, all you want to do is replay it. This is the first great album of 2021…I pity the poor bastards who have to compete with this. Good Luck!
Review – Michael David Erfort.