Listening back to Ed Askew’s 1968 debut curio Ask The Unicorn is an oddly haunting experience. One YouTube user has set these sparse tunes (Askew’s keening East Coast vocal accompanied by an insistent lute) to footage of the Vietnam War, and 40-plus years on it still has a desperate, subversive power.
In ensuing years Askew, an inscrutable figure, has focused mainly on art, and musical releases have been few and far between. For The World arrives after his first US tour, and it’s an eccentric, potent listen.
Joined by a selection of hip young fans providing guitars, bass, harmonica, Askew still cleaves to the lute and jangling, saloon-style piano as principle instruments. Maybe it’s his relocation from Connecticut to New York that accounts for the Lou Reed-like burr to his voice here. Over seven minutes the beautiful Roadio Rose wrings drama from one simple progression; Blue-Eyed Baby’s quirky storytelling evokes Dylan at his most surreal and lute/harp-led tune Gertrude Stein adds to the album’s literate chic.
It was during Drum Song that I fell in love with this record, and if Reed, Roy Harper or Syd Barrett speak to you, then don’t hesitate.