CD Review: Roky Erickson and Okkervil River, True Love Cast Out All Evil

True Love Cast Out All Evil is a collaborative effort, recorded with indie band Okkervil River serving as backup and produced by Okkervil singer/lyricist Will Sheff. It’s an unlikely combination at first glance: Okkervil is a critically-adored band mostly known for Sheff’s eloquent words and the band's highly defined pop sensibility. They craft intellectual, emotional songs that sink into your heart at the same time they make you tap your foot; but they do not have a shred of psychedelia in their repertoire, and Sheff is certainly not known as a major producer. This album could have easily been overwhelmed by studio elements, but it is Okkervil River that keeps it definitively on track, with all focus on Erickson himself. Sheff’s admiration for Erickson, and his sensitivity to the nature of the material he was given to work with are evident throughout the entire album.

Speaking about the record in a press release, Sheff said, "When we started out, I was given 60 unreleased songs to choose from. There were songs written during business setbacks including the Elevators' painful breakup, songs written by Roky while he was incarcerated at Rusk, and a great deal of songs that reminded me of the sense of optimism and romanticism that I think sustained Roky through his worst years…”

[image-1]Elements of Roky’s past appear throughout the album in the form of never-released recordings Sheff carefully selected from Erickson’s personal collection, many recorded during his time at Rusk. The opening song, “Devotional Number One,” is one such piece. It is a tender, heartfelt, and delicate acoustic number, transparent in the emotion Erickson conveys from the depths of his worst moments with nothing more than a simple tape recorder. The genius of this song, however, is the string accompaniment that begins at the halfway mark. It’s an understated enhancement of the original recording, and sets the tone for Sheff’s production style. [Photo of Roky & Okkervil above by Todd Wolfson]

True Love Cast Out All Evil is never about Okkervil River as a band, but about showcasing Roky Erickson. This is Erickson’s moment to shine, to glow in the recognition and praise he has deserved for so long.

“Goodbye Sweet Dreams” is the album's highlight. It is an anthem of survival that gives me chills, with lyrics that speak delicately of loss and sadness. The raging guitars, strings, and crescendos of feedback are pure Okkervillian, but it’s Roky that owns this song. It speaks volumes, for as much as the focus of Okkervil’s music is Sheff’s eloquent lyrics, this chance to showcase someone else’s work really gives their music a moment to stand on its own. Erickson’s gravelly, emotive voice conveys as much emotion as Sheff’s does in Okkervil’s work, but with an underlying heartache and world-weariness.

“John Lawman” lets Erickson loose with a country rock edge that demonstrates why musicians like ZZ Top, Janis Joplin, Henry Rollins, and REM have all cited 13th Floor Elevators as an influence. “Forever” is the heartfelt ballad of the album; starting with only Erickson’s raspy voice and a guitar, and ending with an obligatory huge final chorus. Erickson’s voice and lyrics may still be full of sadness, but he is happy now and it comes through in clearly throughout True Love Cast Out All Evil.

This album is perhaps best characterized by Sheff: “This is not a cynical comeback record, a lukewarm update on an established legacy – these are the best songs Roky has ever written, unreleased due to decades plagued by the kind of personal tragedies that would destroy someone less resilient.”

Taken out of context, this album is a lovely and well-produced effort that reveals an artist’s stylistic development over the years. It is also an album that demonstrates how the skills of a producer who empathizes with his performer and believes in his abilities can make a collection of songs into a thing of beauty. Looking deeper into Erickson’s story, however, shows this album as his masterpiece; a triumph over mental illness and unbearable hardship.

It also just happens to be a damn good rock-n-roll album.


An album that opens with a song referencing both Jesus and hallucinogenic mushrooms could only come from Roky Erickson.

If you’ve never heard of Erickson, you’re probably not alone; he's been missing from the music scene for the past several years dealing with his personal demons. Erickson was the lead singer for the legendary 13th Floor Elevators, widely considered to be one of the band's that created psychedelic rock. They had a unique sound (which inspired much of the garage band movement), but were mostly infamous because most of their music was created and performed while they were under the influence of LSD. In 1969, facing a felony marijuana possession charge for possession of a single marijuana joint, Erickson pled insanity and was committed to Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. For three-and-a-half years, he was subjected to shock treatments and surrounded by the deepest levels of insanity. By the time he left, he had begun his own struggle with mental illness, dealing with paranoia, depression, and dementia that forced him to withdraw from public life. Erickson’s battle is chronicled in the 2005 documentary, You’re Gonna Miss Me, but this album marks his first new release in 14 years.

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