album reviews

Roky Erickson & Okkervil River
True Love Cast Out All Evil
Anti- (2010)

Record of Recovery: Roky Erickson and Okkervil River, 'True Love Casts Out All Evil'

While Roky Erickson is not without his demons, they all sound like ghosts on the cohesive and earnest "True Love Casts Out All Evil."

Erickson has a lot to come back from: not only has the psychedelic-rock hero and former 13th Floor Elevators frontman not released an album of new studio recordings in more than a decade, but he's been in and out of psychiatric hospitals since the late 1960s, including a multi-year stint at the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

But recent years have been good to Erickson, and for "True Love" he's teamed up with Austin indie-rock darlings Okkervil River, whose singer, Will Sheff, produced this album and selected these dozen songs from 60 of Erickson's old home recordings.

Okkervil River is a solid backing band, but the real focus is on Erickson's voice, which sounds both weary and passionate, especially on "John Lawman." It's one of the album's most lyrically simple songs and also its most urgent; Erickson has only a few words ("I kill people all day long / I sing my song because I'm / John Lawman"), but he repeats them over and over with a venomous snarl that comes from years of personal frustrations.

There's also an acute autobiographical element to this album. Erickson appeals on his own behalf on the shattered "Please Judge," which begins with a Dylanesque whine but grows to a heartbreaking croon as he begs for his own freedom. There's a distorted interlude in the song that sounds like layers of radio static, which may seem random — but to those familiar with Erickson's story, it evokes the years he spent collecting bulk mail and blasting the radio to drown out the voices in his head. It's a bold move to throw a man's personal struggles right back at him in his own song, but it works, making a sad tune seem even more tragic.

Sheff also chose to present two songs on "True Love" in their raw demo form. The album's opening track, "Devotional Number One," is a simple guitar ballad, with Erickson's psychedelic take on Christianity — most songs about Jesus don't involve the lyrics "hallucinogenic mushroom." And the closing tune, "God Is Everywhere," sounds like a more hopeful anthem, though most of the lyrics are muffled almost beyond recognition. Still, the fragility in Erickson's voice is the song's — and the album's — most prevalent quality.

Erickson's most delicate, intimate moments show exactly how far he's come.

Written by Express contributor Catherine Lewis

.: Originally published: 19 April 2010.
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