I first met Michael Askin during his time in the Mable and Divine Sign. Askin’s simple and melodic guitar style was a key focus with those bands, and he went on to utilize said skill as both an in-demand sideman and focused solo artist. Soft-spoken and humble, Askin is the Devil’s Advocate surprise that they never see coming. “Speak softly and carry a big stick” is the approachable way of Michael Askin. In a tough and veritable sea of growing New Jersey talent, Askin dominates on well-known compositions such as “Captain Of A Sinking Ship” and “Spoke Too Soon,” two songs that are lyrically powerful and melodically memorable.
Askin is back with a brand new recording and a full band to boot. Ignore The Evidence follows the pattern of many current groups in that it gives the listener a smaller and much more focused group of music to digest, and hopefully results in the listener coming back for more. When I think of Askin’s style, artists such as James Taylor and Samuel Beam immediately come to mind. His approach to writing has always been through the eyes of a soloist and even within the structure of a full band, his delivery is intimate and stark.
Ignore The Evidence delves into the cold case files of love, life and the intricate details of Askin’s personal journey, and the EP is a perfect example of best foot forward. Produced by Kurt Reil from The Grip Weeds, Ignore The Evidence is anything but ignorable. Reil’s work with The Grip Weeds has been documented tirelessly at the Shoreworld, and when combined with the songwriting outlook and sensibilities of Askin, ends up becoming the next big fish on the Aquarian line.
The disc roars in off the dusty trails of classic rock with “Mercy Of The Radio.” Great big guitar chords grind out of the speakers with the urgency of early 1970s bands such as Argent (“Hold Your Head Up”) and the mystical magic of everything Warren Zevon. Askin’s vocals aren’t rushed here, and with the tempered assist of Kurt Reil’s production, he lays textured lyrical magic all over the top of this country rock look into the inescapable pull of the rhythm of life. Guitars slash and sing enthusiastically, digging into their role as musical hook as Askin manipulates low note riffs, open chord call and responses and sparse, Mark Farmer (Grand Funk Railroad) lead work. It should be noted that Askin and Reil demonstrate a keen sense of pace here. Constructing compositions like an old brick schoolhouse, the pair raises this musical fortress through dynamic markers, smartly engineered passages and in the end, the sensibility to turn it all loose and let it race across the imaginative plains of the musicians. Askin writes music in the same way a skilled painter swipes broad flourishes of the brush across canvas, and his lyrical directives are unhurried gold. The addition of pristine vocalist Jerzy Jung lends a soulful and elegant passion that plays for days on this keeper track.
Askin twirls further into his special brand of folkie country alternative on “Highwayman.” This brings me back to Dylan’s 2006 Modern Times record. I can remember being in Woodstock with Christian and Gorgo Beach to see Dylan’s new group, and the combination of twangy, train rhythmic lonesomeness and organic backwoods solace left a lasting impression on me. Guitar work lends that Denny Freeman troubadour vibe all over it. Hell, I can remember that I went out the next day and got myself a 1960s Stratocaster, locked myself in a room and just picked at it voraciously trying to get a smidgen of Freeman’s world-weary six-string sensibility. Askin and crew hit that target immediately, shuffling into the track with a hazy California acoustic strum pattern and miles of impressive, rusty, truck stop lap steel work. “Highwayman” features the powerful vocal assist of Kurt Reil and brings me back to those golden days when Sammy John (Chevy Van) ruled the playlist world.
“All The Broken Promises” switches gears and heads into a 1980s Tommy Two-Tone/Eddie Rabbitt odyssey. Askin shines with tube-fueled, top end tone on this addictive number. A highly underrated guitarist, Askin never wastes a note. His musician sensibilities are straight to the point and full of life. Michael impresses vocally as well, mixing powerful choruses with dynamically speaking rise and fall tones. This is music that ignores timelines and social media fashion.
In a way, Askin and his band remind me of Incubus. Stylistically, the two bands are miles apart, but like the aforementioned group, Askin comes up with highly original offerings that stay with you for days on end. The comparison is due to the compositional excellence. Easy, breezy and filled with strategic content, this is poppy, mellow rock at its best. In a world of bands trying to sound likeCalifornia’s Super Humanoids or Branches, Askew and crew stand far above the clueless. Beautifully crafted melodies, toe-tapping rhythms and emotion-pulling responses make this song a top contender for a myriad of crossover gold.
“How Could Anybody Know” is the final closeout on this short but sweet record. Wrapped in introspective Americana prose, “How Could Anybody Know” absorbs the divisiveness of our modern-day world. Relationship regret and dysfunction rambles along over the hypnotic bass and drum work of Jeremy Lewis (Jerzy Jung) and Ron Difrenza, two standout rhythm masters that make this disc click and tick. Jerzy Jung and Reil are back on harmonies, with Jung doing her ethereal call and response support and Reil above the fray as Askin denounces the homestead damage forever and ever. Organs shimmer as guitars pick chimey, open drone notes along the lines of Mike Campbell or Peter Buck.
Ignore The Evidence is a solid effort from one of the music scene’s most low-key writers. The team up of Askin and Reil is a solid and sensible partnership that has made this writer’s job a pleasant and rewarding experience. With all the producers that plug the Asbury coast, I’m surprised Reil hasn’t stepped in and taken over. Perhaps that’s around the corner.
You’ll have a chance to see Michael Askin and his full band at The Saint. That’s right, Jan. 24 marks the release of this top-shelf offering, and I cannot wait to see this performed live. For more information on Michael Askin and his unique perspective on life, love, laughter and music, head over to Michael Askin Release Show on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/events/331382266986266/.