Roky Erickson and Okkervil River
True Love Cast Out All Evil (Anti-)
On its own, Roky Erickson’s first album in 14 years is a modest, unassuming success. True Love Cast Out All Evil is a collection of 10 songs from throughout Erickson’s career, many of them previously unrecorded, with Erickson backed by the Austin, Texas, indie folk-rock band Okkervil River. The band provides twangy, expansive arrangements for Erickson’s simple and direct melodies, and Erickson gives a heartfelt vocal performance. At the heart of the album are two songs that directly address Erickson’s troubled past: the hard-rocking “John the Lawman,” a reprise of a song from the 1986 compilation Gremlins Have Pictures, and the piano-and-feedback centerpiece “Please, Judge” (“Please, judge, don’t send or keep that boy away”).
In the context of Erickson’s career, though, a modest success, especially at this late date, is a profound achievement. Erickson was one of the worst casualties of the psychedelic era, victimized by absurd circumstances (three years in a mental hospital after an arrest for marijuana possession) and cruel fate (his schizophrenia prevented him from performing for nearly 20 years). His return to the stage in 2005 was already one of the great redemption stories in popular music, and True Love only adds to that. It’s not his best work, but it’s a legacy project, and Erickson’s kept it clear-eyed, gentle, and surprisingly free of bitterness. That’s better than anybody could have expected.