When it comes to describing his style, Michael Askin materializes from a long-gone era that used the slogan, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Askin is a quiet and likeable artist that avoids the cool kid club and does his own thing. Where he speaks loudest is in his unique writing style. Avoiding the over trampled term “Americana,” and the tired path of mainstream pop, Askin mines his gold from a pure 1970s vein.
Askin is best remembered as a member in local big fish like Divine Sign, Mabel and My State Of Attraction. His Samuel Beam (Iron and Wine) meets James Taylor vibe has gotten him noticed by producers like Gordon Brown (Mr. Reality) and Ron Haney (The Churchill’s) in the past, and now Joanna Burns and Amanda Duncan for this latest disc. Burns and Duncan have been forging their own production style with acts such as Anthony Walker and they now continue here, putting Askin in the correct light on this latest disc. Their signature less-is-more approach always works well when an artist has something to say. There is no hiding under layers of studio magic. This work is an easy, breezy listen.
The EP is titled Here We Are Now, andfeatures four of what I consider the best of Michael Askin’s current compositions. This every-man rolls out great, descriptive stories about life’s common conundrums, mistakes and dreams. Askin manages to describe things we all relate to without sounding syrupy, insincere or generic, and that is important when it comes to singer-songwriter credibility.
I enjoyed the backwoods tone of “One And The Same,” a romantically slanted portrait of empathy and the unrelenting pursuit of fulfillment. Askin’s vocal presentation is both smooth and pleasing, relying on his quiet, Rick Roberts (Firefall) sing-song tone to lure the listener deep into his honest and uplifting tale. Askin scores well on “One And The Same,” combining sensitivity with the tight and punchy backing of his band, which includes the instantly recognizable beat of drummer extraordinaire Sarah Tomek.
“Home Now” tumbles lazily down through Askin’s melodic mind, splashing the listener with hints of The Eagles and an eerie vocal reminiscent of Elvis Costello and the late Jerry Garcia. Burns and Duncan highlight Askin’s southern Cali vibes well here, pushing him hard to shine down rays on beach-baked atmosphere, visions of ethereal love and the melancholy memories that we all walk with along the shore. Visual and lush, “Home Now” is Askin’s own “Tangled Up In Blue.”
Another song that I have heard recorded without the band before, “Spoke To Soon” comes at you in a different but workable way. I have heard comparisons to Darius Rucker (Hootie And The Blowfish) but I hear more of a Dave Loggins (Please Come To Boston) comparison than any of that other nonsense. This song pings and sparkles like a wind chime on the front porch. Displaying Askin’s guitar work (he is underrated), the warm, analog smooth electrics weave over and under Tomek’s champagne smooth shuffle and the effervescent flavor of Jerzy Jung’s flawless backing vocals.
“Captain Of A Sinking Ship” weaves a story of introspective isolation, created by the unchangeable regret of an individual with no real way out. The Burns arranged strings add a different element to the lyrical plea here as well. A bit grandiose, it plays well, especially at around 4:45 where the rhythm section kicks in and rides this out to its 6:14 conclusion.
Michael Askin may prefer the wallflower role to that of the main stage diva, but once you see him live or take a listen to this disc, I think you will understand the nature of a great New Jersey artist that, while he may shun the proverbial spotlight, will always see his compositional talent doing the stage bowing for him. Go check him out over at reverbnation.com/michaelaskin
Adopt-A-Soldier Benefit at The Stone Pony, Nov. 12
Whatever political slant you take, there is one thing we can all agree on when it comes to our troops: They selflessly protect our interests and freedoms under some of the toughest conditions in the world. Many organizations have tirelessly fought to keep them in our active thoughts and on the to-do list when it comes to making sure that they feel close to home, if even for a brief time. These organizations provide everything from personal care packages to outings and accommodations. This support will be continued on Nov. 12 at the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park. The show will feature some of New Jersey’s best acts and organizations all pulling for our men and women serving overseas.
As of this writing, there are four groups set to perform, including the Shamrock And Thistle pipe and drum band. These traditional bagpipers and drummers have been lending support since their 1974 formation and it is an interesting and visual group of kilted merrymakers to behold on a stage. Other bands on the show include Cookiehead, a Secaucus-based trio that put the “old” in old school rock and roll with their no-nonsense, blue-collar approach to traditional sounds along the lines of Bad Company or ZZ Top. Christine Martucci, a former soldier and military veteran brings her snarling style to the show as well. Christine may also tell you about her 2012 Luna Nueva tequila launch and her continued successes as one of Jersey’s hardest working singers on the scene. Christine is always a welcome addition to a show like this and her fan turnout should definitely help the cause.
EOS will headline the show. The Toms River-based 10-piece band rivals Tower Of Power when it comes to stage elbowroom. Featuring five lead singers (wow!), EOS explores everything from their own deep, dark, extraterrestrial originals to a few obscure and random cover songs that will leave you singing aloud and deep in the party. This group has been quietly assisting these military organizations for quite a while, raising tons of cash and handing over every dime to our men and women overseas. All artists will have CDs that will be available at the show, and donation opportunities for all attendees will be available at tables set up for these fine organizations that represent our troops, and all proceeds from ticket sales, downloads of EOS songs and raffles will be donated.
The event started a year ago when EOS producer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Birardi and EOS manager/guitarist Bill Tuohy had the idea of giving back to those who defended the freedom of our great nation. Birardi and Tuohy, who were still in their previous band Blondsense, contacted Bill Tuohy’s cousin U.S. Navy’s LCDR Don Wilson. Commander Wilson put Birardi and Tuohy in touch with Adopt-A-Soldier Platoon’s president and founder Alan Krutchkoff.
The three met after a brief phone conversation and made history by putting on their first benefit show this past January. The show garnered much press and was a huge success. Now just 10 months later, Birardi and Tuohy have taken their new band EOS and have teamed up with Krutchkoff and Adopt-A-Soldier Platoon to put on yet another installment of this rock and roll event.
Doors open at 7 p.m. and this is an all ages show (21 to drink at the bar). Tickets for this show are $20 and can be purchased directly at the band site, eosrocks.com, as well as organization and event sites such as adoptasoldierplatoon.org or stoneponyonline.com, and at the door.