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Thursday, July 22, 2010

True Love Cast Out All Evil


True Love Cast Out All Evil
Roky Erickson with Okkervil River

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Often it's more about the singer of the song than the song itself. Roky Erickson returns for his first album of original material in nearly 15 years backed and produced by fellow Austin musicians Okkervil River. This is not a retrospective or a nostalgia piece: this is a resurrection.

Erickson was a key figure in American music, being the frontman of the highly influential 13th Floor Elevators. In 1968, Erickson was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia. After a drug arrest the next year he spent the next five years in mental hospitals where he was involuntarily subjected to electro-shock therapy. In 1974, he started to make new music, fascinated now with horror films, the devil, and aliens. While some of these recordings are amazing, he was obviously suffering from his illness, and for a while it appeared he had lost his battle with Schizophrenia, but by 2002 was in his brother's care, and after fighting a litany of legal and contractual court battles, started playing music again, now in the best health of in decades.

That's the just the Cliff's Notes version of the story. Now, if you knew none of that, this would still be a solid, solid and heartfelt album. But when you know who its coming from, it's exhilarating and deeply moving. Like Johnny Cash's American IV and V, Billy Joe Shaver's more recent albums, and Merle Haggard's songs about prison, there is something authentic in experience that can be heard in a voice that can't be faked. The album opens and closes with recordings Erickson made while a prisoner at the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally insane, slowly strings build to accompany it, and these are some of the most transcendent recordings I've ever heard; the best word to describe them is holy. The compositions are tight, focused, and accompany the lyrics (both honest, simple, and at times classic Erickson) quite well, Okkervil River (themselves not strangers to songs dealing with pain and mental illness) does a great job enhancing the songs instead of influencing them with their own sound.


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