Culture

Listen Up: The Sound of Joy

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What does a woman do after lending her brilliant vocal and keyboard talents to the likes of Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson and Joe Jackson? If she’s singer-songwriter Joy Askew, whatever she pleases! Askew, who made her mark performing and recording with other artists, also puts out her own music independently — her stuff, her way. And her quirky new release, Queen Victoria, is the jewel in her crown, with praise coming from the likes of Bonnie Raitt.

Inspired by the traditional brass band music she grew up on in northern England, Askew engaged Brighouse & Rastrick— one of the UK’s current masters of the form — to accompany her. Tuba, trumpet, French horn and trombone bring an unusual warmth and richness to the album, especially when compared to today’s slick-as-ice chart-toppers. But it’s Askew’s stirring, stunning voice — lilting and ethereal here, fierce and freeing there — as well as her subject matter that will lure you back again and again.

Some tunes reminisce about her youth: the simple, pre-smart-phone pleasures of “Knockin’ Around an Old Tin Can” and the jaunty title track, an homage to Askew’s own great aunts, which calls up rambling gardens and the aroma of home-baked bread. Others, like “Glass Bricks” (featuring Joe Jackson, who’s still in fine fettle) are more contemporary. Above all, it’s the aching “I’m Still Looking for a Home” — timeworn and timeless, as hopeful as it is haunting — that both buoys and tears at one’s heart.

Askew has toured the world and been around the block a few times. Shiningly, it shows. On Queen Victoria, her artistry and maturity will make you smile, maybe weep and — even if you’ve never heard a British brass band before — truly relate.

Nina Malkin

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