impressive debut, stylistically diverse

Tender City (Private Music)
Joy Askew

By Allen Howie

From the dizzying Middle Eastern riff that spins itself into "Corrinne," the opening track of Tender City, singer/songwriter Joy Askew ignores stylistic boundaries and produces a sonic collage that is one of the most satisfying debut albums in recent memory.

Something of an overachiever, Askew wrote all the material, sang and played a host of keyboards, and produced or co-produced the record. The result is a record that's as personal as it is eclectic.

From the dust devil that is "Corrinne," Askew settles into the placid lament, "I'm Still Looking for a Home," a stately ballad with a nicely subdued guest vocal by Peter Gabriel.

Askew's voice is an impressive instrument, and she bends it to the demands of the song with surprising ease. Clear and pure on the wistful "A World So Rare," with its plaintive, potent chorus, robust on the stirring title track, it takes on an icy fragility for the spare "Little Darling," an exotic blend of Kate Bush and Rickie Lee Jones.

Her writing is equally strong, setting her dreamy, impressionistic lyrics to sail on fluid, melancholy melodies. And Askew's production suits her material perfectly, with an elegant airiness and emotional intensity recalling Marvin Gaye at his most introspective.

I have no idea where you'll find Tender Cityin your local record store, roaming as she does over such broad stylistic terrain. I do know that Joy Askew's spooky, seductive debut is worth searching out.