Album Reviews

Perry Blake – California

UK release date: 20 October 2003

Perry Blake, Sligo-born singer / songwriter, isapparently one of music’s great untapped resources. California arrives ashis fourth major release, with previous efforts including the soundtrack forFrench film Presque Rien and a live recording reworked with the help of theEnsemble Musiques Nouvelles.

You may very well wonder what to expect of analbum with American West Coast orientations from an Irishman who happens tobe critically acclaimed on the Continent but is largely ignored in Britain.

Thankfully, Blake lives up to his billing withapparent ease. His songwriting is evidently mature and melodic; heincorporates lush orchestral arrangements with tender vocals; and combinespop-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 profoundand gentle (though not depressing by any stretch) nature. However, the manclearly values his pop ideals, and California is both a short- and long-termtreat.

Album opener This Life is cosmetically simple, butpragmatically rich. Blake’s falsetto is hardly Dan Hawkins, and withstandsmany repeat listens without getting old. Close harmonies and heartfeltlyrics lounge over a string section that alternates between delicate andsweeping. It immerses you with such grace that you can’t help but wonder whyPerry 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 PrettyLove Songs. To be concise, the song is The Verve at their peak, though farmore fragile and balmy.

Saying Goodbye is thick and luxurious, providing theperfect platform on which Blake’s vocals glide and spiral. It isparticularly 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 istestament to his reputation, and pours mystery on his distinct lack ofcommercial recognition on these shores.

As the man says himself, “It’s thesepretty 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.

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