roky erickson with okkervil river: true love cast out all evil (chemikal underground)

consider this a sloughing off of old skin. a way of looking forward by looking back, of saying this is who i am, but no more. it is not a comeback. erickson didn’t stop writing as much as he disintegrated, dissipated into the holes in his head. while the rubin produced johnny cash records slipped on occasion into clumsy sentimentality or worse downright morbid cynicism, true love… does not. it is not an attempt to conclude a legacy. it is not an old sick man singing the top ten songs you’d like to hear an old sick man cover before he dies. roky erickson is alive and if not fully well, then at least living well.

which brings us to the fella’s first proper album since 95′s all that may do my rhyme. it’s not a huge leap from there to here, but if yr only familiar with the 13th floor elevators or his b-move hard rawk from the eighties (though john lawman is roky of yore) then the mainly hazy country vibe fluttering from speakers may confound expectations. produced by will sheff, and featuring the okkervil river band, the emphasis has been placed on a kindof straight forward singer / songwriter storyteller vibe, giving erickson the air of an odd, lysergic townes van zandt or gram parsons. reminds me of skip spence’s oar, but in reverse, where it’s not so much the documentation of an unraveling but of a stitching back together.

so yeah a definite sense of past present and future. sheff whittled down sixty-odd erickson songs written over the decades into one re-recorded album, prologued and epilogued by two no-fi home-taped devotionals while institutionalized. it’s a record as biography. exemplified by be and bring me home’s testimony to music, love and endurance. a song surprisingly not choked by anger or bitterness at the shitty hand dealt to him, but illuminated by an unlikely optimism, and when singing to his wife, dana, tender and romantic. all the more remarkable when sitting alongside ain’t blues too sad and a line such as “electricity hammered me through my head / till nothing at all is backward instead.” it’s a combination of mystic and personal that works well for him.

his voice has changed as much as his head, as much as the music; the yelp and yowl of old reborn with a steve earle gruffness and vic chesnutt vulnerability. i’ll draw parallels with this and gil scot-heron’s supposed phoenix act. fuck reputation. fuck history. this is now. it’s not pain or past or reputation. it’s in spite of. it’s the line drawn and stepped over. the cover, roky’s face emerging from the darkness, harkens back to the evil one (where you could say it was a face submerging into darkness). but there’s no distancing here, no schlocky third-person metaphors. instead what’s offered is simple and direct; bad things happened but i’m getting my life together, i’ve found some kind of inner spiritual peace, i love my wife and i love music. and when he sings “it’s gonna last, it’s gonna last, thinking they had to, birds’d crashed” goddamn do you hope (believe?) it’s true

chemikal underground

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