The Perfect Cafe
(Stevenson, 2005)

Charmer isn't just a name, it's a warning. From the first track on The Perfect Cafe -- "Holly Hey! Holly Ho!" -- Jan Smith's clear voice charms the ear, making the heart ache for a story of loss that has after all been told in a thousand folk songs. The spell deepens with the addition of the Smith brothers, Joel, Bob and Brian-Dudley. With classic folk music, modern progressive rock and a hint of blues, combined with clever lyrics covering love, loss and the evening news, Charmer creates an enchantment all the more powerful for its seeming lightness.

The Perfect Cafe is a testament to the timelessness of good music. Though Charmer disbanded in 1989, and the album is made of songs from the 1980s, their arrangements are innovative enough to sound fresh, the vocal harmonies as classic as a hymn. Many of Jan's songs gain their timelessness by taking the form of an effortless folk song, like the dreaming "If I Were a Wealthy Man" and the painfully sweet "Give Me a Love." But the Smith brothers' songs charge boldly into the land of progressive folk-rock, with unabashed modern content like the force of "Empire TV" and harmonica blues of "Waiting." It's those more modern songs that seem to truly travel the decades, both echoing the past and sounding forever current.

The Perfect Cafe is a bit of a heartbreaker, offering the barest hints of a sound effectively lost to time. But for those of us not lucky enough to hear the band when they were together, and for those fans who still miss a remembered treasure, Charmer's album is a welcome postcard from the past.

by Sarah Meador
12 November 2005