Helmed by an adoring local fan and fronted by a fallen ‘60s star many times through the wringer, True Love Cast Out All Evil seems poised to fall into a formulaic rut of middling expectations, wrenching cathartic redemption songs from decades of anguish. Yet Roky Erickson, despite a voice that has turned as thick and gummy as molasses, remains a self-possessed songwriter, and Okkervil River’s Will Sheff is far too savvy a compiler and producer to steer this project toward hammy cliché. Narrowing down 60 tracks to 12 over a spry but substantial 40 minutes, the album eschews recovery sentimentalism while pointing Erickson’s career back in the right direction.
Despite the grizzled vocals, often-simplistic lyrics, and focus on mental illness, the album does not approximate the Daniel Johnston style, feeling instead like a sturdy portrait of a man regaining hold of himself. Bookended by haunting tape-recorded dirges culled from Erickson’s dark years, the album is a deft combination of Okkervil’s standard bluster with a weathered, brass-tacks sensibility in the vein of Johnny Cash’s American albums. “Goodbye Sweat Dreams,” despite its predictable and basic rhyme scheme, is moving and ethereal. As a backing band Okkervil adapts well to Erickson, smoothing over his problems and pitfalls while also fittingly indulging his tics. The boozy style of “John Lawman,” a generally dumb song with an endlessly repeating refrain, delights in the ragged edges of Erickson’s new voice, giving it a scuzzily perfect bar-band backing—all plinking keys, messy soloing, and chunky sax.
It’s hard to tell how much of the success here stems from Sheff’s handling of the material or how well Erickson would come across on his own, but the fact remains that he’s still capable of producing strong material, a fact that True Love Cast Out All Evil proves, without making a display of this revitalization.