[11 October 2007]
The sound of an Ed Askew recording, once heard, is utterly unmistakeable, the singer’s high warbly tenor drifting above an intricate jangle of high staccato picked notes, the blare of harmonica occasionally surging in. Askew’s 1968 acid-folk landmark, Ask the Unicorn, introduced a whole generation of folk revivalists to his emotion-laden style when it was reissued by ESP in 1996. The follow-up Little Eyes was recorded almost immediately following Ask the Unicorn, yet because of money troubles at the label, wasn’t released for more than 30 years. DeStilj put Little Eyes out on Vinyl in 2002; now, five years later, it’s available in CD format, with four bonus cuts drawn from early 1970s radio recordings. Echoes of Dylan flit through these songs, in the sweep of harmonica and the trembly tones of Askew’s voice. Melodies are simple, blues-based, yet laid over delicate, baroque flourishes of lute-like tiple—a Latin instrument Askew mastered in the late 1960s. It’s high, harpsichord-ish tones dominate Askew’s work, adding a note of complexity and Renaissance resonance to his songs. Not exactly folk, but infused with the minor key harmonies of madrigals, his songs feel at once older and more contemporary than the 1970s folk they are. “My Love is a Red Red Rose” is timelessly bittersweet, and the lone protest song “Song for Pilots” as heartbreaking in the age of Iraq as that of Vietnam.