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CD Review: Roky Erickson With Okkervil River - True Love Cast Out All Evil (Anti-, 2010)

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Roky Erickson’s new album begins with a field recording, made by his mother during a visit to the Rusk State Maximum Security Prison For The Criminally Insane. He’d been sent there after being arrested for possession of one joint in 1969, and served for three years. What happenned to him during those years profoundly altered the rest of his life, as he battled a raging depression and paranoia that left him only partly functional even at the height of his career. As of a decade ago, it was reported that his condition had deteriorated almost beyond hope of recovery. Ravaged by dementia and a life-threatening dental abscess, he seemed, from the outside, to have been left for dead.

But about nine years ago, his story finally began to lighten up. The intervention of his brother Sumner and son Jegar saved his life and paved the way for a remarkable return to physical and mental health, as well as a return to his music career. The last four years have seen him fit and healthy, performing at a high level of intensity, travelling around the globe for the first time in his life. This album includes the first studio recordings of his revival, along with a couple of snapshots from the past.

One might expect the songs from the Rusk era to possess the same demonic rage found in almost all of his solo work, But instead, Roky sits with the tape recorder rolling in the prison courtyard, one of his buddies from prison band the Missing Links (all of whom, except for Roky, were in jail for various combinations of rape and murder) playing a second guitar beside him. He hesitates for a second, then strums out the gentlest of melodies and delivers a bizarrely poetic devotional.