Roky Erickson is a cult figure of the highest, undisputed pedigree. He, and the rest of the 13th Floor Elevators, have had an inconceivably important impact on the state of what would become known as, urgh, ‘alt-country’. Basically anyone who’s picked up an instrument and screwed around with the rules of traditional American music owes a debt to these early pioneers, Erickson in particular. The Texan is somewhat of a Daniel Johnston figure without the celebrity and media aggrandizement and the particulars of his mental health have cast a shroud over his talent in the last decade or so. All of which serves to make his return to the musical fold, backed by the ever-brilliant Okkervil River, a welcome one to say the least.
From the off Erickson is in upbeat form, acutely aware of the pain and darkness of life but carrying on regardless, ‘Ain’t Blues Too Sad’ plainly showcasing the willingness to remain positive, even when it all goes wrong, in the form shock treatment in this case. Okkervil River are the perfect band to articulate this spirit of optimism, knowing how and when to let things roll, when to switch it up a notch or two, such as on the all-out rocker ‘John Lawman’, and when to sit back and frame Erickson’s bruised howl. The finest example of this approach comes on the title track, as chiming guitars and minimal drums float underneath the heart-warming vocals. The title becomes a mantra, the repetition becoming spiritual and the belief growing with every turn.
Erickson is truly the centrepiece of this album, his voice connecting all the tracks with its dusty exuberance, the sound of a man who has lived a lot of life and is not giving up on it anytime soon. The sincerity is never forced, the spirit is genuine and the love is real. The evidence is in the little lines, the snippets that catch the ear more and more with every listen, ‘Take little things meaningfully, so I’m not alone’ he sings on ‘Be and Bring Me Home’, and its good advice for listening to this album. This is the record that the soundtrack to recent film Crazy Heart wanted so desperately to be but instead of lazy clichÃ©s, dodgy accents and easy resolutions we get a heartfelt collection of songs, dripping with life, all the more beautiful for the imperfections they can’t hide. A remarkable album and a thoroughly welcome comeback.