Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin
Michael Askin was once known as strictly a guitar player. Laying down 6-string work in the bands Divine Sign and My State of Attraction, Askin had a singer/songwriter bug biting him and began composing a big batch of solo tunes. He finally dropped the first barrage of songs on his 2013 debut Single Step. Flash forward four years later to 2017 and Michael is three releases deep into a respectable solo career with his newest album Road by the River. Here he has reached the summit of his vision; a sky-high mountain where folk, country, rock, blues, pop and film soundscapes coalesce into a sonic brew that packs as much melody as it does a gravelly bite.
The lead-in cut “Road by the River” is the title track and it does a great job of setting the stage for the rest of the EP. Its nimble country gallop draws some of its blissful, uplifting acoustic boogie from not just country but also bluegrass. Brush-tapped drumming and roots-rich bass bends are coupled to multifaceted acoustics and just enough electric buzz to give your house foundation a subtle shake while Askin wrings honey from every inch of his vocal chords for the sake of powerful, melodic song construction. This piece is the literal launch point for every stylistic mash-up to follow over the course of this extended-play’s five glory-bound jams. What “Nashville” holds back in tempo it makes up for in the sheer number of guitar flourishes present throughout. Surges of heavy electric walk hand-in-hand with ripping country twangs and suave steel guitars as the vocals and rhythms bat eyes at the blues. This song could have been beamed in directly from the country rock, heartland Nashville and blues heavies of the early 70s. It has that same sweat n’ swagger to spare; topped off by Askin’s original, mad scientist crossbreeding of these several different yet musically congruent genres. Offering up an even crunchier, crispy take on slamming hard country rock, “Sun Going Down” is a storm of impactful power chord riffing, acoustic lamentations, pulsing rhythmic tremors and Michael’s sweat-drenched vocal soul. It’s hard grooving, atmospheric back break runs off like rainwater into the likeminded swelter of “Hard to Make a Living” and it’s penchant for the same type of multi-instrumentalism. Hammond organ and prominent synthesizer (especially felt on finale “Last Train”) raise the stakes on the EP’s downright award-winning trio of songs.
Askin is truly an old soul when it comes to his music and his implementation of ideas that started fading out during the end of the progressive rock era when having an organ player in your band or playing one yourself became a thing of the past as the 80s came into view. Michael knows how to take his music back to a bygone time without sounding cheesy, no matter how he incorporates these things into his sound. It’s for these reasons that Road by the River stands out in a crowded 2010s pack where a lot of stuff is starting to sound the same. Thankfully, Askin’s grand work across his three EPs doesn’t suffer from that problem and his music is well-worth your listening time.