Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin
In the late 2010’s there’s been a resurgence, a yearning need for roots music revival interpreted via formative blues and country influences. Some artists come off as cheek and “retro” simply to cash in on this movement while others channel the style straight from the heart and dig for true emotional pay dirt when it comes to writing songs. One such artist who’s doing things right is New Jersey’s Michael Askin and his third EP release Road by the River is proof positive that he knows and feels this particular sound inside and out. It’s only a 5-track release but the strength of the songwriting contained within Road by the River packs the punch and weight of a top-notch, full-length record.
The album’s namesake tune phases the EP into existence and its emphasis on blue-eyed soul vocals and cattle rustling acoustic guitars given a whip crack by electric riff minimalism makes for a unique difference split as far as this style goes. Most artists choose either acoustic or electric guitar and weave their sound around that one particular nuance. Askin instead takes the best of both worlds and mixes it together. The foot-tapping, gritty up rhythms borrow a page from bluegrass and infectious vocal hooks etch the material permanently into his audience’s ear drums. It’s a fantastic opening number that’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as this recording is concerned.
“Nashville” is no frills, saddle-sore country with touches of rock riffing and a smoldering folk/blues component coming across from the application of stern mid-tempo pacing and overlapping acoustic guitars. A push/pull dynamic is created between the stripped-down, unplugged melodies and the scorching rock riffs yield a track with two distinctive personalities that is brought together by Askin’s roughhewn but decidedly melodic vocal jambalaya. This track is an easy standout on the EP as well its successor “Sun Going Down,” a jam that breaks its axles on craggy, hard rockin’ blues guitar that crests atop of the acoustics while a roaring Hammond organ sends the track’s main instrumental melody off into the stratosphere. There’s simply no denying the grandeur of this deep, texturally complex piece. This track is bookended by the desperate country rock of “Hard to Make a Living” which further fleshes out the groove established by “Nashville” while inflecting the blues-leaned electric riffs and howling church organ of “Sun Going Down” into its alchemical mixture for a righteous blend of all of Askin’s many influences. That leaves curtain call number “Last Train” to kick up a duster of twangy country folk that transcends to a psychedelic ending full of vibrant keyboard eruptions. It’s the penultimate closer in that it encompasses every element heard prior on the EP but ultimately sends things off in a new direction altogether.
Road by the River is without a doubt Michael Askin’s most fully realized recording to date. The songwriting reckons of an industry veteran with at least 30 to 40 years of experience under his musical belt. After sharpening his skills for several years in a pair of New Jersey bands, Askin has truly come full circle on his own; highly recommended stuff.