Michael Askin - Road by the River (2017)

Written by Raymond Burris, posted by blog admin

Formerly a force in the New Jersey rock scene and a member of the bands Divine Sign and My State of Attraction, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumental maestro Michael Askin set off on his own in 2013 with his debut solo EP Single Step and has never looked back since.  2015 brought with it the extraordinary sophomore release, Ignore the Evidence, which did not hint at any signs of a slump and with Askin’s latest and greatest third EP Road by the River, we find Michael settling into his style for the long haul.  He sounds comfortable in his writing, playing and vocal delivery; the EP’s 5 tracks each creating and coloring in very individualistic mini-worlds that can live and survive within in their own self-sustaining contexts.  

The opening couplet formed by the title track and “Nashville” showcase a sound steeped in folk but mixed with country and blues spices that are about as authentically played as these styles get.  They are certainly the kind of influences that are missing from the more popular country/folks artists these days…that’s for certain.  Breezy, skyward vocals with nice 2-part harmonies unfold over soulful acoustic guitars and slight percussion brushstrokes that complement the sound but never overtake the guitar/vocal/keyboard work (this trio being the centerpiece of Michael Askin’s dynamic sound).  Keys and organs a touch of blues-soaked ol’ glory to Askin’s aural constructions while electric guitar interjects counterpoint musical discussion to the acoustics, Michael’s voice softly soars over the well-layered instrumentation and slide/steel licks deeply entrench the atmosphere in southern-soul home cookin’.  The crumbling power chords riffs and crashing heft of the mid-tempo breadbasket beating heard on “Sun Going Down” launches Askin’s songwriting into near heavy hard rock mode.  Acoustic guitars style ply shimmering folk hooks alongside the baroque bluesy organ playing but overall a deadlier sonic blow is dealt here…the distorted riffing stepping out from a backing, backdrop enriching buzz to a full on sledgehammer driving home crushing hits that enliven the melodic bits and send the EP off on a somewhat different course.  “Hard to Make a Living” works well as a companion piece to “Sun Going Down” while splitting the difference between that track’s nail-biting blues down strokes and the gospel folk of the title track’s lead-in.  Again sparsely notated organ hums and sweet acoustics are harvest by the bushel as the electric riffing provides a granite carved backbone to the brilliant melodies that Askin’s vocals and instrumentation weave.  A country twang swirls throughout the overcast skies of closer “Last Train’s” haunting melodies and world-worn vocals as it ascends to an endnote that splices together several different keyboard melodies into an awe-inspiring, breathtaking finale viewed from a mountainous musical summit that utilizes a similar ideal towards layering that a movie score instrumental does. 

Overall, Road by the River excels in every area.  Askin’s lyrics paint vivid pictures of love, life, loss and triumph while the instrumentation ably and easily matches his words and vocal dynamics.  Immaculately produced and mixed so that every instrument stands out and each tracks flows seamlessly into the next, Road by the River is best experienced as a first to last track listen with headphones keeping disturbances at bay.  One can only wonder what direction Michael Askin will take on his next EP.  While it’s too early to tell how he’ll progress his sound next, I think it’s safe to say that fans and newcomers to his music can expect another collection of expertly penned, played and produced tunes.