Charmer’s The Perfect Café Reviews



"...a chance to rediscover...excellent music."  


Charmer was an acoustic and vocal quartet that featured Dudley-Brian Smith, Jan and Bob Smith, and brother Joel on guitar and vocals. Unlike Smithfield Fair, Charmer focused more on American singer/songwriter content with a very strong melodic and harmony-centered approach. The Perfect Cafe is a 20-song 'best of' collection of original material from their eight albums over a 16-year run. There were strong influences of contemporary writers including Dan Fogelberg, Jesse Winchester, Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley in the group's timeless Americana approach, and songs such as 'Flying High', 'Wishing Well', 'Compassion in the Crowd', and 'Rebecca' demonstrated them to be accomplished writers and musicians. The Perfect Cafe is a chance to rediscover a band that should have received wider recognition for its excellent music. -


Lahri Bond, Dirty Linen Magazine



"...a welcome post card from the past."  


Charmer isn't just a name, it's a warning. From the first track on The Perfect Café -- "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 Café 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 Café 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.


Sarah Meador, Rambles Cultural Magazine





Baton Rouge TV personality Scott Rogers once remarked that you can’t acknowledge Smithfield Fair without giving a nod to Charmer, the predecessor of the internationally known Scottish band led by Dudley-Brian and Jan Smith. Between 1973 and 1989, the then Alexandria-based folk quartet staged an impressive 16-year run, released eight LPs and opened for nationally known artists including John Prine, Nancy Griffith, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Arlo Guthrie, John Fahey and the Washington Squares. At the height of its popularity, Charmer felt it had run its course and amicably parted ways. By then, the Smiths were exploring cultural bloodlines with their traditional Scottish music as Smithfield Fair while Dudley-Brian’s brothers Joe and Bob formed the acoustic duo Diverse Peoples.


But Charmer was never totally forgotten, and several songs found their way into the Smithfield Fair repertoire due to popular demand. Five years ago, Dudley-Brian tested the Charmer waters and printed 200 CDRs to commemorate the 30th anniversary of its founding. The response was overwhelming, leading to this official release that commemorates the band’s 35th anniversary with 20 fan favorites.


Overall, the material holds up well with very little that sounds dated. The well-constructed arrangements feature splendid acoustic guitar leads over a subtle yet sturdy rhythmic core and compassionate vocals that often segue into the brothers’ swelling, blood harmonies. Jan’s “If I Were a Wealthy Man,” a signature tune that’s arguably the best track, appears here and has since been reprised by Smithfield Fair. In its original form, it’s still haunting, especially given her chilling vibrato. For those who may have arrived late on the scene, the Charmer-Smithfield Fair connection makes perfect sense. Invigorating folk music, to say the least.


Dan Willging, Offbeat Magazine



Blown Away! 


Oh, wow! Where do I start? I am blown away! I said that about S-F's Winds Of Time, but I have the same reaction to Charmer. Jim and I just finished listening to The Perfect Café, appropriately while eating a meal. What a feast! (The album, not our plain meal). It's a great example of "blood harmonies", but how well Jan's voice suits as well. The blend and mix of voices in harmony is superb -- perfectly complementing solos -- never overpowering. I've always thought S-F's strongest qualities are harmony, arrangements with strong distinctive rhythm backing. It struck me that Charmer's influence was strong in S-F's Celtic albums. I am so pleased and thankful to add this CD to my collection. It is a treasure and a "must have".


Donna Fitch, Southwest Celtic Music Association





Listening to the music of the Louisiana acoustic folk group Charmer is not unlike a gentle summer breeze or a call from an old friend.  Formed in the early 1970s, during the heyday of Brit-folk bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, Charmer featured vocalists Jan Smith, Dudley-Brian Smith, Bob Smith and Joel Smith.  All played various acoustic instruments ranging from guitars and accordion to percussion.  After breaking up in 1989, Jan and Dudley-Brian formed the Scottish heritage folk group Smithfield Fair while Joel and Bob went on to form Diverse Peoples.


Now, 31 years after their formation as "the perfect café band," Baton Rouge-based Stevenson Productions has released "The Perfect Café," a sixteen-song CD featuring the best of their Celtic-influenced contemporary folk music.  And by today's standards, the music here is interesting, thoughtful and, well, charming.


From 1986 comes "Another Southern Summer," a catchy track featuring beautiful harmonies, subdued acoustic guitar licks and a steady shaker keeping the rhythm.  "Empire TV" with its urgent vocals and synth drumbeat is a more melancholy song that sounds as fresh and now as it sounded when it was released in 1987.  "Waiting," from 1985, sounds like something you might here by Crosby, Stills and Nash or America. Gently strummed guitars, nice harmonies, and a nice beat.  "Flying High," from 1981, is grand in its Poco-ish, California-styled country-pop visions while "You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone" is a bittersweet song featuring Jan Smith on lead vocals. This sounds like something you might have heard by the Pentangle or Fairport Convention.  "Dreaming of Havana" a track from 1986, features guest guitarist Bryan Mead playing lead on this song penned by Charmer guitarist Joel Smith.  The optimistic folk-pop of "Time For Living" is reminiscent of some of the mellow Christian music being recorded in the late '70s and early '80s.


Closing out the album is the simple "Goodbye Old Friend. For those of you who missed Charmer during their heyday (they reformed at a gig at PJ's Coffee recently and will perform at the end of this month) be sure and pick up "The Perfect Café." For more information visit


Andrew West Griffin, The Town Talk