Roky Erikson and Okkervil River – True Love Casts Out All Evil

The LP has a country tinge that crosses all boundaries and should confound all expectations from the die-hard fan army who will snap it up

Lordy, this is something else, Roky is in fine form, and ably, nay brilliantly backed by Okkervil River, who bring richness to Erickson’s spiky, spindly muse. I’d even go as far as to say that this is the LP to start with if you’re thinking of checking out Roky’s later oeuvre. It’s certainly up there with All That May Do My Rhyme that is for sure. I was worried that Roky’s weirdness would be ironed out with the addition of lush and clear arrangements but luckily the singularity of his delivery – even when he does sound like an ageing country singer - survives the leap from lo-fi to digital. (Actually, as an aside, isn’t it weird hearing Roky in a digital format?) 

After a “field recording” entitled Devotional Number One (probably taken from his time inside Rusk back in the early seventies) we’re given a short fairly standard country lament, Ain’t Blues Too Sad, which is a very low key opening indeed. Following this short plucker we have the romantic Goodbye Sweet Dreams, which has a menacing arrangement and Erickson’s delivery at times threatens to break loose from a discontented grumble into that holler. It’s actually pretty romantic stuff all round. Never forget that Roky’s a soul-boy at heart…

The LP has a country tinge that crosses all boundaries and should confound all expectations from the die-hard fan army who will snap it up. Be and Bring Me Back Home is a classic Roky track that’s given an incredibly lush, weepy bar-room ballad feel, and it works, even if it is all but unrecognizable in its current guise. Please Judge, off All That May Do My Rhyme offers another handy comparison. Whereas the earlier version is a simple thing, more soulful and stripped back, this version has gravitas and a tenderness that really brings an added dimension to the message. With the added feedback and field recordings thrown in, it’s a really beautiful piece. The preacher side of Roky gets full exposure in the title track, a magnificently reflective sermon that somehow overcomes the inherent sentimental arrangement and instrumentation to be a truly affecting piece. I mean, it could have been a really dodgy moment if not handled with care. Roky’s voice swoops Buddy Holly style near the end.

Fans of the screams and hollers can get down to John Lawman, a song which sees Roky let rip over a determined backdrop, replete with brass squeals and howling feedback. The screams that shattered through Elevators recordings is now more akin to an otherworldly grumble but none the less effective for that. Birds’d Crash is another “big” tune, though it’s the band that adds the thunder here. 

But it’s the reflective moments that really stand out; Forever is a massively sentimental track, pulling out all the sentimental stops and Think Of As One is a simplistic soulful stomp, which allows Erickson to lay down his rhyme. He’s always been good at knocking up incredibly catchy pop lines to encompass big subjects. The LP finishes off with another Rusk recording God Is Everywhere which uses a sympathetic string arrangement to great effect. 

A marvellous LP. In fact, this could be my LP of the year.