Flo Perlin “Clay”

Proper, 2024

Superb blend of jazz, folk and contemporary singer-songwriter genres reflecting Iraqi and Belarusian heritage from Londoner Perlin.

Artwork for Flo Perlin album "Clay"Our review of Flo Perlin’s previous release ‘Characters’ heralded “the arrival of a major talent”, and her new album ‘Clay’, her third, more than justifies that conclusion. On every pointer, this is a triumph–Perlin has a distinctive vocal style and tone, perfectly captured in the ten tracks, warm but also fragile, with her lyrics carrying both vulnerability and hope.

High standards of recording and production are pretty much a given for releases these days, but here they are exceptional, allowing the often complex and layered arrangements of Perlin’s songs to shine through, always enhancing and never overwhelming her deeply personal lyrics.

Melding diverse genres is one of the many positive characteristics of the world of Americana, and here jazz, folk and contemporary singer-songwriter meet in a distinctive style, with rhythm always at its heart.  Opening track ‘Feels Like Yesterday’ kicks off with a Latin percussive groove, drums so clearly recorded you feel you’re there in the room with the musicians, and an arrangement with strings, sax and bass clarinet perfectly expressing the nostalgic lyric, reflecting on revisiting a special place from Perlin’s childhood, as she singsWe drove out through the hills that we’d known / Where nothing had changed, our faces were all that had grown/ We drove out through the hills where we’d lay/ Where nothing has changed, it only feels like yesterday “.

Perlin is a Londoner with Iraqi and Belarusian heritage, and this cultural background is also evident in the arrangements, and in ‘Mother Tongue’, the search for identity Well I tried to speak but I said none/ I tried find my mother tongue/ The house I knew was filled with doubt/ The clothes I wore were inside out/ Sometimes I ask, is it here where I’m from/ Sometimes I ask what it means to belong”. Several songs, this included, summon up the feel of Nick Drake’s classic album ‘Bryter Layter’, with its rhythmic acoustic guitar and strings.

Perlin plays acoustic guitar, with Duncan Thornley on synthesiser, electric guitar and percussion, and credited as co-producer/engineer,  Adam Hayes on drums and percussion, Jasper Osborn on electric and double bass, Ellie Consta on violin, Tim Gardener on piano, synthesiser and violin, Irene Katsenelson on viola, Simone Seals on cello, Kaidi Akinnibi on vocals and soprano/tenor saxophone, Matteo Busti on electric guitar and Simeon May on bass clarinet/tenor sax.

In her words, ‘The Room That He Grew Up In’ is about a man remembering himself as a boy. He looks back at the future dreams he once had and where he is now. Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to”. Starting down-tempo and switching to double time for the chorus, the arrangement perfectly matches the mixture of recollection and anxiety of the lyric.

Title track ‘Clay’ is a reflection on living with and accepting mistakes, as part of a personal journey of growth, with Perlin’s acoustic guitar and subtle strings  Swallowed my tears, I liked the taste/ All the things I could have faced / Smile at the sky when it turns to grey/ Like you’re the only one that’s ever felt this way.”

A contemporary jazz feel is to the fore on closing track, about “how a great love stays with us”, with Perlin joined by Kaidi Akinnibi on sax, who shares vocals on the chorus Part of me goes insane, when you go, when you’re gone, part of me/ Part of me fades when you go, when you’re gone, part of me”.

A complex and compelling delight from first to last, and a personal favourite release of the year so far.

10/10
10/10

About David Jarman 122 Articles
Long time fan of Americana genre, from early days of Ry Cooder, through to today's thriving scene. Regular visitor to USA ( Nashville/Austin/Memphis/LA ) live music junkie, I play guitar, mandolin, harmonica, plus vocals, run monthly jam session in Broadstairs
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