Before you question the ethicality of selling outsider art made by a mentally unbalanced individual, take note: Marvin Pontiac is the musical alter ego of John Lurie. Which makes this album even more notable, since Lurie hasn’t released new music in seventeen years! At one time downtown NYC’s renaissance man-about-town, Lurie came to prominence in the no wave era with his fake-jazz band the Lounge Lizards. Starring roles in Jim Jarmusch’s 1986 film Down By Law and the 1991 fishing show Fishing With John made him ubiquitous in the expanding boho-alt media culture. Then, after 2000’s The Legendary Marvin Pontiac: Greatest Hits (his first-ever vocal album), Lurie suddenly ceased performing to cope with chronic Lyme disease and dedicate himself to painting.
The Asylum Tapes finds Pontiac/Lurie intoning primitivist lyrics in an addled baritone, plucking Mississippi Delta-meets-Northern Africa guitar and banjo, and honking occasional blasts of electric harmonica, now without backing band. Though lacking the ensemble magic of Lurie’s previous music, it’s not necessarily a quiet album, filled out by multiple voices and the occasional snippets of nature recordings. Given his reported tribulations of the past two decades, songs like “I Am Not Crazy,” “I Want To Get Out Of Here,” and “Don’t Fuck With Me” may in fact not be vehicles for play-acting — a criticism leveled at Lurie’s otherwise acclaimed first Marvin Pontiac album.