Graham Reid | | 1 min read
The most recent album by the emotionally damaged Daniel Johnston, Is and Always Was, found his often fragile and shaky acoustic pop placed in the context of a band -- and while it was fine to hear his songs that way (as he wanted) there was also a sense that their nakedness had been sacrificed.
Erickson's lyrics speak of hope (and loss of hope) and have a natural, country/country rock sound which Okkervil River are entirely comfortable with. And where the mood shifts on Be And Bring Me Home the music shifts from rock ballad into a gentle gospel mode with a steadily uplifting chorus.
This is sympathetic music, and rather more on the money than that which Johnston's songs were given.
It helps to that Erickson is still in fine, if very different, voice. Where once he could scour a pot with his vocals now he sounds like a road-worn troubadour (sort of a smoother Kristofferson in places).
The opener is a lo-fi recording with plenty of tape hiss and background clatter, but its tone and sentiment -- it is entitled Devotional Number One -- sets the mood for an album which has elements of faith and religion scattered throughout. The album ends with God is Everywhere, also a ragged home recording (with a string part added, which makes it sound like a melancholy Civil War ballad).
But there is also simple electric guitar stum'n'stomp country-rock on Bring Back the Past; Please Judge is an emotional plea for mercy over simple piano with an emerging string section and some weirdly disturbing sonic effects; John Lawman is a searing psychedelic rocker, Forever is confident ballad which finds Erickson in effortlessly strong voice . . .
Because these songs comes from all parts of Erickson's life -- Okkervil's Will Sheff who produced was given 60 unreleased songs which Roky had recorded on cassette at home in or Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane -- there is also a powerfully autobiographical undercurrent. But you get the sense Erickson isn't asking for sympathy.
There are astonishingly moving songs here such as the lyrically simple title track with its pedal steel, Please Judge and Birds'd Crash.
The grace which infects such songs suggest that Erickson may be much more sane than most of us. Wonderful.