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+)