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Music Review: Roky Erickson with Okkervil River – True Love Cast Out All Evil

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There are survivors and then there are survivors and then there is Roky Erickson.

Roky Erickson left a lasting mark on the American music scene as the vocalist/leader/songwriter of the seminal garage/psychedelic band, The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. While their “You’re Gonna Miss Me” was the closest they would come to a hit song and that would only reach number 55 on The Billboard Magazine Hot 100 Charts in August of 1966, their music would be covered by and influence such groups as ZZ Top, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, R.E.M. plus provided some of the seeds for the seventies punk movement. The group would disband during 1969 after a short and tumultuous career.

Erickson’s life journey during the past four decades has been one of pain, insanity, comebacks, and ultimately redemption. Severe drug use led to his arrest and entering an insanity plea in court. The then 22 year old was sentenced to the Rusk Maximum Security Prison for the criminally insane where he would undergo shock treatment. Upon his release he would initiate several comebacks but would spend a decade secluded away reading junk mail and playing the radio loud so as to drown out the voices.

As the 2000s progressed his health improved due to a regimen of prescription drugs. He reunited with his family and began making appearances in the Austin area. This led to a relationship with Will Sheff and Okkervil River.  As a result Sheff was asked to produce an album and was mailed three CD’s of sixty songs written by Erickson during the course of his life. These unreleased tracks were written for The Elevators, while at Rusk Prison, at his mother’s home, and with his prior group The Aliens. Twelve were selected for his first studio album in over a decade.

“Devotional Number One” and “God Is Everywhere” were kept in their original form and are the first and last tracks. They provide an understanding of different points during his past. The first is a gentle yet in some ways chilling treatise of psychedelic Christianity. The last is a regaining of life and hopefully redemption.

The new studio tracks travel an eclectic road as they embrace a number of styles including garage-rock, hard rock, country, and what can be called Texas folk.

He does not avoid his past but faces the pain with what is ultimately optimism and hope. “Be And Bring Me Home” is a long autobiographical song of his journey toward health. “Bring Back The Past” proves that he still has an ear for melody after all these years. “Please Judge” is his musical confrontation with his incarceration.

Through it all he remains a lyricist of note. He tells his stories and confronts his demons. His tenor voice may not be of the caliber of his Thirteenth Floor Elevators days but it is honest and passionate. The accompanying booklet contains a complete biography and wisely includes the lyrics to his songs.

Hopefully Roky Erickson will continue his journey of health and contentment and there will be no need for another comeback.

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