Michael Askin has been part of the scene for several years now. Getting his start in Asbury Park bands in the early 2000s, Askin went on to perform with many local top dogs before going on to do his own thing. Groups such as Mabel, Divine Sign and My State Of Attraction all held court with Askin before he decided to go his diverse way.
When it comes to describing Askin, iconic songwriters such as Samuel Beam (Iron And Wine) and James Taylor come to mind. His laid-back vibe has gotten him noticed by producers like Gordon Brown (Mr. Reality, Sam Hill, and Williams Honor) and Ron Haney (The Churchill’s) in the past, and he continues to attract new interest as he heads into this latest project titled Road By The River. The CD was produced by another Shoreworld favorite, Kurt Reil. Kurt is part of the outstanding Gripweeds. Kurt also handles backing vocals, drums, percussion and keyboards on Road By The River.
The disc was recorded and mixed at Reil’s own House Of Vibes in Highland Park, NJ. Askin plays all guitars, bass, and some keyboards as well. He also handles all the lead vocals. The overall sound of the disc is polished with blood, sweat and proverbial tears culled from the mind of Askin and his ongoing journey to where ever he’s headed. As in the past with projects such as the 2011 release, Here We Are Now, and the 2014 release of Ignore The Evidence, Askin’s “speak softly and carry a big stick” mentality works quite well.
When I first heard of the team up of Askin and Reil, I was sort of curious as to what something like this would sound like with their backgrounds. Given the fact that I know both parties and their styles, I wasn’t quite sure what the outcome would be. Reil hails from a more solid rock background, and Askin searches for his inspiration in mellower pastures. But truth be told, the partnership is a perfect blend of songwriting and production magic. The album boasts subtle sounds and intricately woven songs that all come together on Road By The River.
The first song on the EP is the disc namesake. “Road By The River” is a lazy, hazy shuffle that reminds me of something Neil Young could have come up with on his 2005 release of PrairieWind. Askin mixes solid songwriting with creative lyrical content and musical accompaniment to come up with a song that should do quite well on radio. I love the blend of acoustic and electric guitars as well as the pocket tight drum work supplied by Reil. Askin uses everything he should to make “Road By The River” a potential hit song. The subject matter seems to be that of the eradication of past love and future opportunities, and Askin tells his story with passion and empathy. The chorus is instantly memorable and stays with you for days. I also appreciate how instrumentation is built in layers, never punching you in the face with unnecessary overplaying or self-indulgent fretboard gymnastics. The guitar parts all aid as a hook accommodating Michael on his way throughout the song.
Up next is “Nashville.” This song is an intense look at the city of music and all its wonderment. Askin kicks things off with acoustic guitars before coming into the excellent chorus with the most skronky slide guitar I’ve heard all year. Reil joins Michael in verse two and the pair tear into this Tennessee back porch gem with tone and tenacity. Reil and Askin work out perfect backing vocals and sound as if they have been singing together for years. Askin’s guitar sensibilities shine brightly here as well. He combines acoustic and electric guitars with straightforward and choice riffs, slide work and intricate chord choices to build this wonderful tune. Bass work melds well with Reil’s drumming, and keyboard work sits back in the structure as they should.
“Sun Going Down” shines its light next. Askin comes off with an almost cowboy vibe on this one. Organs percolate in the back as guitars slash and grind their six-string message and Michael sings his terrain driven imagery to the masses. The production here is amazing as Reil and Askin manage to arrange instrumentation with a building technique that makes this song bigger with every verse. Askin’s single line electric lead work is tremendous and stark. The organs come out a bit more here and add to the ambiance of this dark and dramatic piece. The middle-eight brings things into a different focus as Askin’s lead work takes the song into a 1960s direction before refocusing on the next verse. Another wonderful tune.
The next song on the EP is called “Hard To Make A Living.” Askin spins things with his acoustic guitar work as he sings his ode to earning love the hard way. The main thing I love about Michael is his outlook and use of real euphemism. He also doesn’t waste time and gets right to the point he is trying to make. When the instrumentation kicks into the second verse, everything elevates on a continued journey to songwriting excellence. Reil’s backing assistance is outstanding, and once again it sounds as if the two performers have been singing together for years. Choruses and verses all make sense, and Askin delivers yet another solid song that should see airplay.
“Last Train” closes out this compact and classy disc. Askin takes the listener on his journey of special love and togetherness. Finger picked acoustics roll trance-like as Askin tells his tale. Coming out of the first chorus the electrics surface and add sparkle all over the top. Reil’s percussion work is robust and anatomically sound as Askin flows across the upper part of the entire piece. The song is both stark and filled with a lonesome directive, which makes this song stronger. Keyboards mix with guitars, bass, and percussion as the song builds in its cacophonic delight.
Michael Askin has scored well with Road By The River and his production team up with Kurt Reil is both fantastic and right in every way. The songs are all solid, and by my count, I heard at least two that should do well with the radio crowd, but that could increase as radio is a beast all its own.
You’ll have a chance to get the new EP and hear Michal Askin live on June 16 at the InfoAge Science History Learning Center, which is located at 2201 Marconi Rd., Wall, NJ. The cover is a mere $5, and Michael will have a full band (including one of my favorite guitarists Keith McCarthy who will also be opening the show) and several other great players.
For more information on Michael Askin and Road By The River, head over to facebook.com/MichaelAskinMusic and come check him out live in June.