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Artist: Ed Askew

Album: Imperfiction

Label: Drag City

Review date: Jun. 15, 2011


Ed Askew - "Boy With a Hat" (Imperfiction)


John Yeats cast off his coat of old mythologies, finding “more enterprise in walking naked.” On the evidence of this newly reissued 1984 cassette release, Ed Askew followed a similar path. It comes roughly midway between the songwriter’s 1968 debut, Ask the Unicorn, and 2008’s Rainy Day Song, his first new material released in almost 40 years. Reviewing the latter in these pages, Andrew Beckerman muses on the transformations that led Askew from Little Eyes (the long-unreleased 1970 album) to 2008. Now we have another part of the answer.

Rainy Day Song’s title track is earthy, relating a daily event in phrases with the pith and impact of haiku. While the music recorded for ESP in the late 1960s is also constructed largely of pictorial phrases, they live primarily in the stratosphere of metaphor and archetype. It is now clear that Askew embraced the wonders of the everyday long before the millennium turned. “The new man in my life is a child, too,” he proclaims at “Boy with a Hat”’s outset; “I’m drinking by myself, watching the news,” he states with matter-of-fact precision, allowing us into his personal life as his harpsichord arpeggiates and resonates in support.

The fairly brief album is replete with such observations, some encapsulating a moment, some offered in the recounting of every-man travels, and some embracing international occurrence. Again, in “Boy with a Hat,” Askew juxtaposes the global with the mundane. “They’re setting fire to Beirut, and I’m sitting here waiting for you.”

Such negative visions are few and far between, relegated to some contemplation of human insanity (“At Home in the Factory”) and the end of a love affair (“This is the End.”) Yet, even these travails are treated as fodder for composition, or as the impetus for the beginning of a new cycle. “But this is the end, the story’s not over; this is the time to look for a lover.” Maybe this, the transformation of negative to positive and the common into poetry, is the thread that runs through Askew’s creative life. Long after the disc is over, potent visions remain: “The road was like an arrow to the stars; cars drove by, and then I got a ride.”

The voice often reflects the change in subject matter. The closest thing to vintage Askew is the gorgeous and pastoral “House of Embers.” Usually, instead of the vibrato-soaked notes of the ESP years exuding youthful sincerity, a conversational delivery pervades each phrase. Only at key moments does the vibrato return, primarily in wordless passages. Askew augments his trademark Martin Tipple with harpsichord and harmonica, and these can lead to fascinating harmonic progressions, as on the cyclic “Tom,” a bit of chance communication with a man on a bridge. The name is always spoken, the detached delivery and the circuitous harmonies imbuing the monosyllabic appellation with the encounter’s obvious import.

Sure, this is a missing piece to the puzzle, but it’s a wonderful album on its own terms, and the DIY recording only adds to its homespun charm. It whets my appetite for more. What else exists to document the journey of this always fascinating artist?

By Marc Medwin

Other Reviews of Ed Askew

Little Eyes

Rainy Day Song

Read More

View all articles by Marc Medwin

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