“It all feels familiar / Like we’ve lived this life before”, sings Pearl Charles on “All the Boys”, the shimmering opening single of Sleepless Dreamer. Those lines encapsulate the entire album, as a wonderfully familiar feeling streams across the album. In each of the LP’s ten songs, the warm and sunny disposition of the Laurel Canyon folk-rock scene and the classic rock of Fleetwood Mac can be felt. This is music that makes you smile and causes you to momentarily daydream. But the familiarity extends beyond the legends that Charles channels on her delicious debut full-length. Her self-titled, debut EP similarly was a time machine that sent us back to the carefree days of the ’70s and the famous Los Angeles neighborhood. As such, Sleepless Dreamer isn’t a single off-shoot effort; it’s the continuation of one artist’s journey to music immortality.
The title track represents Charles at her very peak. The song feels like the morning’s first sunshine, which warms your body and soul and makes you look forward to the day. Charles’ smokey and lush voice are intoxicating and they add an extra sultriness, especially when she sings, “Sometimes the softest touch is enough to drive me to wildness”. The toe-tapping, “Ghost”, meanwhile, is Charles and her band going full-blown Fleetwood Mac, from the infectious and groovy melody to the positivity that rings in Charles’ songwriting. “Come with me and I can show you there is more to believe in”, she elegantly sings.
Sleepless Dreamer, however, isn’t solely a Fleetwood Mac tribute, as Charles expands her palette to other ’70s influences. The delicate “Blue-Eyed Angel” echos the beautiful grace of Mary Chapin Carpenter while “Behind Closed Doors” possesses the cool vibes of the Eagles. On the sensational “Long Hair”, Charles becomes a blend of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. The classic folk-rock melody soars with the addition of the steel guitar. Charles’ songwriting, however, is the star, as she crafts her own version of “Free Man in Paris” by describing the rise of a man who grows to become a legend.
Charles also gets a touch political on the country-infused folk-pop ballad, “Only in America”. Whereas many artists write songs about the people and issues that pull people apart, Charles focuses on the things that bring people together. It is a message of a hope and unity, of which we could use plenty at this time. On the opposite side of the sonic spectrum, Charles and her band turn up the heat with the sultry “Night Tides”. Funk and disco are infused on this groovy number about chasing after “ghosts” – i.e., trying to recapture the past and desiring something “she just couldn’t have”.
The album comes to a close with the stunning “Phases”. As the track builds, it approaches breathtaking levels, as the music’s intensity escalates and Charles’ vocals become more urgent. The song is the perfect ending because it leaves us on a high and it’s the one number that offers a window into her life. She begins and ends the song the same way, expressing that she has “nothing to lose and nothing to prove, I’ll say what I want to say”. These are the words of a young and talented artist who, unlike many of her peers, is not only resurrecting the sound of a bygone era, but she is completely mastering it.
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