Under Review: Roky Erickson with Okkervil River – True Love Cast Out All Evil

Hero worship can be a dangerous thing, especially if you’re a musician.  If you wear your influences too overtly, you can be called out for being derivative and unoriginal.  Worse yet, if you happen to get one of your influences to work with you, you’re essentially confirming yourself as being a musical descendant of that performer.  True, there are some cases where the older artist/younger artist pairing works rather well, and it’s clear that True Love Cast Out All Evil is trying hard to be one of them.  The album unites Roky Erickson, the founder of The 13th Floor Elevators and noted troubled soul, with Will Sheff and his band, Okkervil River.  Though the collaboration might not be as gratifying as, say, Jack White and Loretta Lynn, Erickson and Sheff’s artistic relationship comes across as far less exploitative than the one between Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash.  Sheff had quite a task in producing True Love, as Erickson’s history of unpredictable mental states and reclusiveness has kept him from the spotlight for an entire generation (and maybe more).  In trying to reignite a love for the music of his fellow Texan, Sheff takes a mostly hands-off approach to the album and lets Erickson’s lyrics speak for themselves.

The songs on True Love were written over the span of Erickson’s entire career, but it’s not clear as to what styles they would’ve been played in had Erickson recorded them at the time.  As the album is mostly acoustic (Okkervil River provides the backing music), the songs are sonically similar though the album isn’t bland.  Opening track “Devotional Number One” is a crude, hissy recording from when Erickson was serving in the Rusk Maximum Security Prison for the Criminally Insane.  The song, like its closing counterpart, “God Is Everywhere,” is inspirationally hopeful, yet subtly full of dread.  Erickson’s late-‘60s voice is still youthful, but there’s a tinge of the misunderstood outsider that is reflected in the newly-recorded tracks.  The older Erickson is more weary-sounding, but is still seeking redemption, as heard in “Bring Back The Past” and “Ain’t Blues Too Sad.”

Though Sheff evidently had a selection of over 60 of Erickson’s songs to choose from for this album, he seems to have settled on some of the more dirge-y or otherwise downbeat ones This, along with the voices-in-your-head injection of old tapes and radio introductions, gives the album a somber malaise that makes Erickson seem more tortured than he might really be at this point in his life.  “John Lawman” and “Think Of As One” are the two best songs on True Love, not just because they’re modestly upbeat, but because they feature both Erickson’s poetic lyrics and his musical versatility.  I’m not suggesting that Sheff was using Erickson to make a stopgap Okkervil River album, but I will say that Sheff seems overly occupied with a particular aspect of Erickson’s life.  While that’s understandable, idolizing someone means being able to look past the dark points and not dwell on them.  Though his producer might not be ready to move on, True Love Cast Out All Evil indicates that Erickson is ready to show off his strange and beautiful talents once again.

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~ by E. on May 7, 2010.

One Response to “Under Review: Roky Erickson with Okkervil River – True Love Cast Out All Evil”

  1. Roky DID record these during his time in Rusk. The CD is entitled “Never Say Goodbye”

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