Review: “True Love Cast Out All Evil,” Roky Erickson w/Okkervil River

Roky Erickson is truly the godfather of psychedelic music – way back in 1966 he went way out with his band the 13th Floor Elevators and their garage-rock classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”  After a few albums (including the 1967 classic Easter Everywhere) the band disintegrated as Erickson wound up in Rusk State Hospital, Texas’ repository for the mentally ill.  Whether he was institutionalized because of real mental illness, or because he copped an insanity plea to escape a prison sentence for drug possession isn’t important – the fact is, Erickson emerged from the asylum with permanent damage and an awful lot of demons.

Some of the songs he wrote while in the state hospital show up on the new album True Love Cast Out All Evil, Erickson’s first studio recording in about 15 years.  He’s backed by Austin indie rockers Okkervil River, whose frontman Will Scheff produced this fascinating album.  It’s immediately obvious that Sheff wants to take listeners on a trip inside Roky’s head – the opening “Devotional Number One” may have been a song sung by Erickson and other patients, and it ends by unraveling into a swirl of voices and electronic fuzz, like static on the radio station of sanity.

You won’t find much of the screaming psychedelic rock Erickson’s known for.  Instead, he builds his songs on foundations that include country  (“Birds’d Crash”), jangly folk rock (“Bring Back The Past”) and gospel (“Be and Bring Me Home” and the title tune).  The punk fury of “John Lawman” comes partly from the pointed repetition of a few lines and raging instrumental backing by Okkervil River.  But Roky makes a declaration of renewal and redemption with the naked emotion of the title tune and the next song “Forever.”   His singing is soulful and emotional, perfectly matching both the material and Okkervil’s inspired playing.

Ending on a hopeful note with “God Is Everywhere,” Erickson slams this volume shut like an old hymnal and reclaims his rightful place among the great rockers of all time.  Like Johnny Cash’s brilliant Ain’t No Grave from earlier this year, True Love Cast Out All Evil is a great piece of work from a truly original American artist.

MP3: “Goodbye Sweet Dreams”

Roky Erickson official website

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