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Roky Erickson: True Love Cast Out All Evil (Album Review)


One of the most remarkable things about Roky Erickson’s collaboration with Okkervil River, 2010’s True Love Cast Out All Evil, is the simple fact it exists at all. The story of Erickson’s long struggle to regain his physical and mental health has been told often enough by now, and even after making a nearly miraculous recovery and returning to the concert stage sounding strong, fiery, and confident, it was anyone’s guess if Erickson still had a good record left in him. Thankfully, Erickson’s manager, Darren Hill, had the idea of pairing Erickson with Okkervil River in the studio, and the match proved to be both surprising and inspired. True Love Cast Out All Evil is easily the most ambitious and imaginative album to carry Erickson’s name since the 13th Floor Elevators’ Easter Everywhere, and it’s a bold, evocative effort to present Erickson’s music in a fresh context. Rather than mimic the sound of the Elevators or Erickson’s solo work of the 1970s and ’80s, Okkervil’s Will Sheff (who produced the sessions) has used Erickson’s songs as the centerpiece of an elaborate aural collage that transforms these 12 tunes into a cycle that runs in intriguing parallels to the dominant themes of Roky’s life and music. True Love Cast Out All Evil begins and ends with augmented versions of amateur recordings Erickson made during his stay at the infamous Rusk Maximum Security Prison for the Criminally Insane, and in between these songs, the album moves back and forth between the themes of love and redemption and the pain and chaos he witnessed under incarceration. While the positive themes outweigh the negative, the songs and their presentation make it clear none of this came easily; “Be and Bring Me Home” and the title cut walk a fine line between weariness and strength, the gospel-influenced “Ain’t Blues Too Sad” searches for succor amidst his life’s many trials, and “Bring Back the Past” and “Goodbye Sweet Dreams” match Erickson’s philosophizing with spirited rock & roll. Sheff and his bandmates perform with vigor and vision on all 12 songs, and they chose wisely from Erickson’s archive of unrecorded and under-recognized material. Of course, none of this would matter if Erickson wasn’t up to the challenge of making new music, and every moment of this album bears his stamp. Erickson’s vocals are simply superb, and if the material often demands a more contemplative tone than the feral howl of “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” he clearly has plenty of vocal colors in his palette, and he applies them with soulful wisdom that’s the perfect match for his elliptical lyrical style. After spending decades in a personal hell, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder if Roky Erickson had anything left to say in the recording studio, but True Love Cast Out All Evil is more than just a comeback, it’s the best and most deeply moving album of his solo career.