Friday, August 20, 2010

Roky Erickson and Okkervil River - True Love Cast Out All Evil (2010)

True Love Cast Out All Evil is Roky Erickson's first album to get any significant attention in a number of years, primarily because of Erickson's return to touring and the album being a collaboration with indie folk superstars Okkervil River. Unfortunately, it suffers from a lack of thinking outside the box. Erickson is old and respected enough to simply write boring folk music and not to get any flack for it, least of all from his starry-eyed collaborators. Will Sheff is a master of this sort of thing and probably saw that this wasn't turning out to be anything particularly special, but he's also an ardent fan of Erickson and probably wouldn't say it even if he didn't like the music on the album.

Make no mistake, this is a Roky Erickson album, not an Okkervil River album with Erickson singing. Erickson dominates the show and the only touches of Okkervil River you can hear are in the playing. They're clearly the same band that made Black Sheep Boy and The Stage Names, but they're playing sidemen to Erickson and they never try to force any of their sound into it. Erickson isn't a bad songwriter mind you, so the many acoustic songs on this album really only suffer for a lack of much to say. Look at the title. "True Love Cast Out All Evil" is such a basic, pedestrian thought and that is where the songs suffer. Erickson doesn't have much of a statement to make. He's making music because it's fun and he knows nothing else. There's nothing inherently wrong about that, but it means the album is far from experimental, revelatory, or even a significant comeback album.

As these sorts of albums go lately, this album skews less towards the direction Gil Scott-Heron took with his acclaimed recent "old guy struggles through life and makes a comeback album" I'm New Here, which was highly experimental and intelligent, and more towards the direction of Daniel Johnston's comeback last year Is and Always Was. It's a statement of simply still being here, making music, rather than any sort of relevance as an artist. It's enjoyable on a few levels though and there are highlights of course.

The opener, "Devotional Number One", and closer, "God is Everywhere", which incidentally owe quite a bit to Johnston's early work, are fantastic and if the whole album had continued in the pained, lo-fi direction of those songs it would've been significantly more interesting. Instead, the rest of the album's songs are overproduced and thereby made generic. The other highlight is rocker "John Lawman" which actually sounds like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators.

Overall, it's worth listening to at least once, but it's nothing that will actually count towards the legacy of either Erickson or Okkervil River much in the long run. It's a feel good late career comeback album that is ultimately nice but fairly forgettable. (C+)


  1. Hi, I have a few points to make regarding your blog entry on this album:

    1) It's impossible for Roky recordings from the 70's to owe anything to Daniel Johnston - and that's not a knock on Daniel, but Daniel's first albums came out in the 80's. They became friends later, but still.

    2) Sheff loves the songs, that's why he chose them - he even chose to re-record some that were already released, which proves he really likes the songs. He sees the genius and beauty in the lyrics of the title track and others, and knows Roky is a great singer, songwriter and guitarist. But these arrangements weren't the best for these songs, and the album could've used some hard rockers.

    3) Because of point 2, I have to say that it's not really Roky's true sound on this album, at all. So while I agree it's not an Okkervil album, it's actually not even a Roky Erickson album, make no mistake. Don't be fooled by the fact that it's Roky's songs and he's singing them. Roky's real sound was happening as he played live with the Explosives in 2007 when his musical and vocal powers (and his health and well being!) were all at the best they'd been in a very very long time. For true die hard rock 'n' rollers, it truly was a sight and sound to behold! I wish it had been recorded and released on a DVD (though it's certainly not the same as being there!) because sadly, that era seems over, unless someone helps Roky out again like his brother did...until then, it's a sad loss for rock 'n' roll, as well as a terrible loss on a human level, because Roky seems to be such a sweet guy who deserves to be well.

    4) You said the songs don't have anything to say, but although it was nice of you not to re-hash his life story (which is always told with errors by poor journalists anyway) and just focus on the music, I think if one thinks about his life, you'll find that "Please Judge" and others are much, much deeper than the songs that most people write, because they have no idea what it's like to have been through what Roky has, and never will.

    In short, I agree with you that the album's not so hot, but I can't say enough about how amazing Roky is when he's at his very best, and how I wish for him to be well again.

    And I also have to give credit to Sheff for his respect and love for Roky, even if I don't like the arrangements on this album and the live performances Roky has done with Okkervil. Sheff is always respectful and seems to care about Roky, and I appreciate that.

    Thanks for reading.

  2. Hey! Thanks for the insight on this one, I don't know all the background on Roky or these recordings, I just listened to the album, so I appreciate an expert chiming in.

    I admit, I probably could have been more informed when writing the review, and that would have helped me to see more about the album such as the lyrical depth, but I doubt that would change my opinion on it as a whole as even you admit that the album itself is sub-par.

    I also admit that I haven't heard much of Roky's solo work after the 13th Floor Elevators, so I would be pretty interested in hearing his real sound. Any album recommendations?