Category: Roky Erickson

Review: Roky Erickson And Okkervil River, “True Love Cast Out All Evil”

Few people have walked a harder road than Roky Erickson and survived. Founder of the groundbreaking 1960s psychedelic band 13th Floor Elevators, Erickson fell into a spiral of drug and legal problems that culminated when he was committed to a hospital for the criminally insane. Even after his release, Erickson’s mental state was fragile, and his most productive post-Elevators period was full of songs about demons and monsters; he also generated a notarized affidavit certifying that he was a Martian. Nearly a quarter-century of hermitage followed. But in recent years, Erickson has rebounded, playing music, touring, and at last recording his first new album in 15 years, True Love Cast Out All Evil.

It’s a triumph merely that this album exists, but True Love’s musical richness goes beyond what could reasonably have been expected from even a resurgent Roky. A big part of that is due to producer Will Sheff, who backs Erickson along with his band, Okkervil River. Sheff’s role was necessarily more than just turning some knobs; he’s helping curate Erickson’s legacy. Given a huge backlog of unrecorded songs, many going back 40 years, Sheff wisely focused on Erickson’s most spiritual and personal material, like the beatific title track and the sad lament of “Goodbye Sweet Dreams.” Gently philosophical and wistful, True Love reveals Erickson as a songwriter of resonant emotional depth—something all too easily overshadowed by his bizarre biography, not to mention his penchant for writing about fanged devils and acid trips. Erickson’s dynamic, soulful voice, always his greatest musical asset, has lost little of its power. Equally at home on the wistfully romantic “Birds’d Crash” and the hard-rocking firestorm of the angry, raucous “John Lawman,” that voice is the passionate heart of True Love, and rightly so. Not unlike Bob Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind, this is an album by a grizzled veteran of rock’s rougher roads who proves in his late career that he still has great work in him. Perhaps even better, Erickson sounds remarkably confident and optimistic; for all the tumult of his life, he’s happy to be living it.

Originally published on April 20, 2010. Read the complete article.

Inventory: Stuck in Folsom Prison: Great music from behind bars

Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin

Although country legend Johnny Cash never served time in prison himself, he had his share of scrapes with the law, and always had sympathy for people who’d done wrong. “Folsom Prison Blues,” with memorable lines like “I shot a man in Reno / just to watch him die,” was one of the first songs he ever wrote, inspired by a viewing of the film Inside The Walls Of Folsom Prison while he was in the Air Force in 1953. Cash played several jailhouse shows throughout his career, but the two most important and iconic are inarguably his 1968 and 1969 concerts at California’s Folsom and San Quentin prisons, which provided a big boost to his then-flagging career and realized his longtime dream of actually recording a live album from inside prison walls. Although some of the crowd reactions were sweetened in post-production before the albums’ release, Cash’s fiery passion and rapport with his captive audience are genuine and magnetic. Both concerts were filmed for subsequent documentaries. 2008′s Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison has been making the rounds of film festivals and arthouses around the country. The San Quentin concert was also filmed for Britain’s Granada Television, and later turned into a documentary by filmmaker Michael Darlow—which screens at south Minneapolis cinema The Trylon tonight at 7:30 and 9 p.m.

Originally published on Jan. 6, 2010 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Johnny Cash, Bukka White, James Carter, and Roky Erickson. Read the complete article.

Inventory: 10 Surprisingly Good Tribute Albums

3. Weird Nightmare: Meditations On Mingus
The 1992 album Weird Nightmare is something of a stealth twofer: The compositions and poetry of jazz bassist Mingus form the backbone of the disc, but Hal Willner also incorporates the unique instruments of avant-garde composer Harry Partch, adding a subtly unearthly quality to the music. Though Nightmare’s core band includes jazz heavy hitters Greg Cohen and Bill Frisell, the album’s refreshingly wide-ranging scope of personality comes from a crew of vocalists including Henry Rollins, Elvis Costello, Robbie Robertson, and Requiem For A Dream book author Hubert Selby Jr., with Public Enemy’s Chuck D putting his definitive stamp on a reading of Mingus’ autobiographical recollection “The Fire At The Coconut Grove.” None of it necessarily sounds like what Mingus would have done himself, but that, of course, isn’t the point.

7. Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye: Roky Erickson
Psychedelic pioneer, cult icon, and infamous LSD and Thorazine casualty Roky Erickson has experienced an amazing personal resurgence in the last couple of years, documented in the film You’re Gonna Miss Me. But in 1990, he was living in poverty, in legal trouble for hoarding his neighbors’ mail, and less interested in music than in dampening the voices in his head by switching on seven or eight radios and TVs simultaneously. Friends and supporters organized Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye to bolster Erickson and his musical legacy, and the results were splendid. The album is still uneven, and several of its covers are workmanlike at best. But Pyramid‘s numerous brilliant moments, including John Wesley Harding’s scorching “If You Have Ghosts” and T-Bone Burnett’s beautiful take on the lonely ballad “Nothing In Return,” drove home the point that even during his unbalanced “Martian” phase, Roky was still a powerful songwriter, well worth exploring.

Originally published on July 15, 2007 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Charles Mingus and Roky Erickson. Read the complete article.

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