Perry Blake, Sligo-born singer / songwriter, is apparently one of music’s great untapped resources. California arrives as his fourth major release, with previous efforts including the soundtrack for French film Presque Rien and a live recording reworked with the help of the Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles.
You may very well wonder what to expect of an album with American West Coast orientations from an Irishman who happens to be critically acclaimed on the Continent but is largely ignored in Britain.
Thankfully, Blake lives up to his billing with apparent ease. His songwriting is evidently mature and melodic; he incorporates lush orchestral arrangements with tender vocals; and combines pop-like hooks with a deep sonic texture.
It is indeed very tempting to say that California is a true slow-burner, gradually revealing Blake’s profound and gentle (though not depressing by any stretch) nature. However, the man clearly values his pop ideals, and California is both a short- and long-term treat.
Album opener This Life is cosmetically simple, but pragmatically rich. Blake’s falsetto is hardly Dan Hawkins, and with stands many repeat listens without getting old. Close harmonies and heartfelt lyrics lounge over a string section that alternates between delicate and sweeping. It immerses you with such grace that you can’t help but wonder why Perry Blake isn’t up there with the likes of Coldplay and Ben Folds.
Hot on the heels of This Life comes title-track California, which, though perhaps not particularly Californian except for the lyrics, remains an impressive song. Even better, however, is the indelible Pretty Love Songs. To be concise, the song is The Verve at their peak, though far more fragile and balmy.
Saying Goodbye is thick and luxurious, providing the perfect platform on which Blake’s vocals glide and spiral. It is particularly touching whilst never sounding deflated, which is frankly an achievement, and testament to Perry Blake’s obvious talent.
Of course, the album is not perfect. How Can The Knower Be Known?, though verdant, does not quite match the exceptionally high standards met elsewhere on California. Similarly, Ordinary Day may take a few listens to sink in.
However, these are minor gripes. What really counts is that California is a thriving and absorbing collection of songs in which orchestral arrangements strain with emotion, melodies thrive and bloom, and Blake nurtures profound sentiments with ethereal tones. It is testament to his reputation, and pours mystery on his distinct lack of commercial recognition on these shores.
As the man says himself, “It’s these pretty love songs, they’re what keep us alive.” As such, California is ether for the soul – a truly magnificent and touching collection of frankly beautiful songs.