Saturday, June 05, 2010

Day 22 - Roky Erickson with Okkervil River - True Love Cast Out All Evil

Roky Erickson's back-story is well documented - teenage success, life long struggles with mental illness, stays in various public facilities (most notably the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane), peer accolades, a multitude of official and unofficial releases (with varying quality control) and then in 2001, his brother being awarded custody as Roky's sole guardian.

It seemed he'd be trotted out every so often as a curio in Texas, greeted with rapturous praise as well as examined as a cautionary tale of wasted possibilities. Stories of erratic, troubling behavior seemed to relegate Erickson to the lost-in-the-margins mad genius bin. But the visage that graces the cover of his new collaboration with Okkervil River is less mad genius, and more iconic myth maker, similar in feel to Johnny Cash's American Recordings phase. And that would make Will Sheff Roky Erickson's Rick Rubin.

True Love Cast Out All Evil is an impassioned valentine to faith, perseverance and family. Some of it can be rough listening - especially the opening and closing numbers ("Devotional Number One" and "God is Everywhere" that are older, rudimentary recordings left untouched - complete with tape hiss, clattering backgrounds and often inaudible lyrics. This framework works well as this story is not often a pretty one.

Erickson's voice is a roadmap of pain and grace, from the hymn-like title track and devastating bleak "Goodbye Sweet Dream", to the rootsy Byrds-ian rush of "Bring Back the Past" and the anguished plea of "Please Judge". Erickson's Texas-ness also shines through as your hear echoes of Townes, Doug Sahm, Willie and the Lubbock mafia all through the disc. A gold star for Will Sheff for a fantastic job of letting the (mostly decades-old) songs breathe in 2010 air, and keeping the focus on Erickson and this most surprising but successful return.

Roky Erickson with Okkervil River - "Bring Back The Past"
Roky Erickson with Okkervil River - "Please Judge"

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