Roots Asylum’s Ride On (LP)

The eleven tracks included on Roots Asylum’s Ride On are my first exposure to this Michigan five-piece. It won’t be my last. 

It’s refreshing to hear a band and songwriting that doesn’t take itself, or life, so seriously. It isn’t to say that there aren’t serious moments present among the album’s tracks; there are. The dominant theme driving these songs is an appreciation for life’s absurdities rather than eleven tracks that flail in the mire and muck of self-pity. 

“Talk About You” kicks off the release with a dyed-in-the-wool rocker. The lyrics are full of biting satire for a self-absorbed subject who’s oblivious about their excesses to an almost comic level. It would be more funny if the songwriter didn’t have to deal with them. The guitar riffing fueling this cut is melodic while containing plenty of bite. 

“90’s Grunge” will be a song that many listeners remember. Roots Asylum plumbs a seemingly bottomless well of references to song titles from the 1990s, The Wallflowers, and Nirvana, among others, crafting this intelligent and funny take on that bygone era. Jimmy McMillan’s acoustic rhythm guitar and A.A. Miller’s drums give the track much of its rhythmic spine, and Katy Velten’s complementary harmony vocals nicely punctuate McMillian’s singing. 

They bust out with one of the album’s best audience participation numbers with “Ride On”. The title track benefits most from a rousing chorus, and they adopt a fleet-footed tempo that keeps things cooking at a steady temperature. Velten’s powerful voice makes several crucial vocal contributions to the piece, and electric guitarist Jeremy Timmer supplies a handful of potent fills along the way. 


The band’s cover of The Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle with Care” rates as one of Ride On’s finest moments. McMillan and Velten trade lines with notable success. I admire McMillan’s bravery in taking on one of the most distinctive parts in modern pop/rock music, Roy Orbison’s lines, and giving a more than convincing rendition. It’s a faithful cover that will remind you how good this sometimes-forgotten song really is. “Girl in a Tower is one of the album’s best tracks. Strong harmony vocals and imagery help power this sweeping country-flavored jaunt, and Carrick Craig’s bass playing during the song’s second half ranks as another highlight.

“Monday’s Washday” is a potential sleeper gem included late in the album’s running order. McMillan tempers his typical exuberant vocals by opting for a more demure approach. The lyrics hinge on key metaphors that distinguish the intelligent writing, and Jeremy Timmer’s honey-coated guitar melodies are tasty. It’s one of my favorite moments on the release. 

Another of those moments comes with the album’s bonus track “80’s Hair Bands”. A lyrical cousin, of sorts, to the earlier “90’s Grunge”, it’s a more melancholy tune than its predecessor, less jokey, but still possessing a generous amount of humor. It’s elevated by some more excellent guitar playing from Jeremy Timmer, but the highlight for me is another first-class vocal from McMillan vying with more of the band’s standard fine vocal harmonies. It ends Roots Asylum’s Ride On in high style. 

Nicole Killian

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Nicole loves to go cross country skiing, swimming, reading and critiquing books, listening and critiquing music, some culinary arts, pottery, spending time with my daughter, cheesy horror films.

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