Roky Erickson with Okkervil River – [Album]

Thursday, 15 April 2010

After the documentary film You're Gonna Miss Me came out five years ago and presented audiences with the image of what Roky Erickson had become, fans and other assorted hopefuls finally gave up the last dangling threads of hope they might have been harboring. It was unlikely that the singer would ever again assume active duties as a musician outside of the odd appearance onstage at a festival somewhere – and that wasn't even a given. The images of a man falling asleep to the sounds of multiple televisions and radios all blaring at once to drown out the voices in his head were just too much; and combined with the images of an opportunistic mother and several disgusting character sealed the deal; Roky Erickson was tired, he could do no more.

And then it happened; like a miracle that could easily have been spouted out by Erickson's maniacal mother, the singer emerged from his debilitating mental illness (he was diagnosed with schizophrenia) at the age of 63 and rejoined the human race, hail and hearty. He reconnected with his estranged son and remarried his first wife, Dana (who was at The Thirteenth Floor Elevators' first show in 1965) and he turned his life around with some help from his little brother, Sumner Erickson.

The terrifying thing now is that Roky remembers everything that happened to him in the intervening decades – including his internment at a mental institution for the criminally insane and electroshock therapy – but the joy is that the singer is now able to articulate it all to audiences on his first new record in fourteen years. It's called True Love Cast Out All Evil and is performed in collaboration with avant-indie country rock rising stars Okkervil River.

Listeners are advised to brace themselves; the stories that inspired these songs are all true. They are the document of a dark and hopeless period from which their singer never thought he would ever escape. There's no arguing that as Okkervill River warms the circuits with an abstract and multi-layered sound collage before being swallowed whole by an enormous mass of white noise; they're certainly on the same wavelength as Erickson here. Those familiar with Erickson's story will feel a chill shoot hard up their spines because they know what that sound represents, and they'll feel their hearts begin to weaken. It's a surprising emotional build, especially given that the singer himself hasn't even uttered a word yet; it's a wonderfully terrible act of aural pathetic fallacy.

And then beauty comes in the form of “Ain't Blues Too Sad.” Oddly, it seems as if the white noise should follow both “Ain't Blues Too Sad” and “Goodbye Sweet Dreams” because each step forward seems to come into clearer focus and become better defined. By the time the singer reaches “Be And Bring Me Home,” the direction of True Love Cast Out All Evil snaps into focus: the album functions as the aural act of Roky Erickson coming back into himself. Through each track, the singer explains the pieces of how he got to where he is now, but he's also picking each piece up and putting them all back together. He's getting close by “Be And Bring Me Home,” and “Bring Back The Past” finds him there; he's found the rock locked inside him wrapped in a country sheath and it's working – the spark is still there.

From that point on, Erickson revisits his trial that took him to a mental hospital (the pleas in “Please Judge” are easy to follow) before falling back into rock (in a Neil Young by way of The Stooges sort of way) with “John Lawman” and relives his arrest in 1969. It's a fascinating trip that is equal parts captivating and terrifying for those that know the story, but that knowledge isn't necessary to find the delicacy and grace some of the songs exact. Okkervil River supports that emotive wavelength as they join the singer on this journey along with the singer and attempt to wring gallons of beauty and compassion into the more countrified tracks  (like the title track, “Forever” and the Cowboy Junkies-esque spacey rumination “Think Of As One.”

In the final moments of the record, both singer and band take one last minute to try out some rock with some epic results (the intro to “Birds'd Cry” is larger than life) before the singer pours his heart out in the same song. In the end (“God Is Everywhere”) as the proceedings revert back to just a simple, tape-recorded and string-touched outro, the cycle is complete; listeners feel a weight lifted from their hearts that they didn't even know was there, and they walk out satisfied because they got to witness something no one ever thought would happen: Roky Erickson came back from oblivion offering listeners a map of how he got there and how he returned. That he survived is incredible, but that he was generous enough to share it with listeners in an act of kindness. Even if he never does it again now, Roky Erickson has shown listeners that he did indeed make it out alive and that will make hearts swell; if he ever does anything even sort of comparable to True Love Cast Out All Evil, it will be gravy on a fantastic story, finished.



True Love Cast Out All Evil
comes out on April 20, 2010 via ANTI–. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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