The most serious misstep here is in the choice of Roky's backing band. I don't know if this was his choice (i seriously doubt it) or more the desire of the label, but Okervil River is not suited in any way to play Roky's songs. For me, Roky is more or less Elvis-he is my total definition of what rock and roll is. He embodies it. His music is pure, simple and honest and his best backing bands have understood that. Okervil River drowns these songs in needless, worthless instrumentation. I don't want to hear fucking horns and sappy strings in a Roky Erickson song. Disgusting! It's dentist's office/elevator music bullshit and to attach it to someone who is wild and feral and free is a disgrace. I won't blame Okervil outright-i feel this was more a label decision than anything else-but to assume that Roky's audience has aged with Roky and wants to revel in the sounds of being fucking ancient is just sad and shows a serious disregard for the artist and the listener. At their best Okervil can work up a nice droning din but far too often this sort of explosion is tempered in favor of FM light garbage that embarasses everyone on the record. Why didn't Anti just bring in the Explosives (Roky's go-to live band, and an amazing set of musicians as well) and make this album what it should have been? The simple answer is dollars, and that sickens me all the more. Anti has established themselves as a sort of home for outcast punk forefathers (Tom Waits) but has done little to foster the belief that they actually care about the artistic visions of said individuals.
It IS nice to have Roky out there and making music again. Granted, many of these songs have been around for a long time (and have been played better by many different backing bands) but it's good to hear Roky surviving and enduring and engaging with the world once more. His voice has been rendered sweeter by the years but such softness suits him-it's always been there and now it's just more apparent. He's lost a little bit of the edge, yes, but i can't blame the man himself for getting older. Tons of other artists have turned in absolute shit at this point in their careers so in comparison Roky still seems pretty youthful. There is still THAT VOICE and there are still the songs.
Roky has never attempted to go beyond what he does and i admire that immensely. There's been no branching out, no experimentation-it's always been simple songs and simple words. I won't comment on the lyrics because they're one of two things-ridiculously heartfelt proclamations of love or horror movie rewrites, sometimes a combination of both to great effect. As stated above there's an honesty to what this guy does that no one else has even come close to. The true poet wears his heart on his sleeve for all to see, good or bad, and cares little for what others think. That's Roky, easily.
I expected this recording to be much more intense than it was. Roky recordings were always rough and ragged, even the studio work, and i feel the lullaby-esque nature of "True Love..." taints the legacy and shows a skewered portrait of the artist as a lackadaisical, tired old man. There is not a single guitar solo on this album and that is just plain unforgivable. I know when he tours this live (if he does, and if it's with a better band) he'll rock the shit out of these songs the way they're supposed to be. I was psyched that "John Lawman" was on this record, one of my absolute Roky faves, a destroyer of a song, total pre-punk disgust and disdain, but Okervil has transformed it into a mid-paced near flatline snoozer with a hint of distortion and a glimmer of attitude. It's a song that breathes "fuck you" and it's been moulded into a sort of "well, i guess." Perhaps that sentiment describes this album best.
The high points, for me, are the opening and closing tracks-two songs recorded in incredibly low fidelity consisting of just Roky and acoustic guitar, the utter nakedness and beauty of the material on complete display. Towards the end of both Okervil begins to pour in but they never achieve full immersion-they're struggling to get in amongst the honesty of the songs, and that's the way it should have been. This album should have been either Roky solo acoustic or with the Explosives. Then it would have been a masterpiece. As it is now it's just another album by an aged counter culture hero. I know Roky is better than this and i think there were just too many people whispering in his ear. It's Anti that fucked up. I also won't blame Okervil River-who wouldn't want to play with Roky?-but if they were true believers they should have known this fact-Roky is best with the Explosives.
Avoid this record. If you're new to Roky start with "Halloween," "The Evil One" or the starkly gorgeous "Never Say Goodbye." Those capture the man as he is-loose, unbridled, free and pure. "True Love Cast Out All Evil" is watered down adult contemporary bullshit.