For those familiar with Roky Erickson as the inimitable voice of psychedelic-rock pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators and a fantastically weird but wonderful solo artist through the '70s and into the early '80s, the initial impulse is to be overjoyed that this album even exists--it's his real attempt at new music since "All That May Do My Rhyme" in 1995, though some would say he really stopped creating in the mid-'80s. Second in infamy only to Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett as one of rock's saddest examples of a mental breakdown, Erickson spent nearly 20 years living in seclusion and poverty, battling schizophrenia and numerous other problems even as countless musicians continued to cite him as a towering inspiration.
Lovingly nursed back to health by his younger brother Sumner, Roky returned to live performance early in the new millennium, tentative at first, but gaining confidence with every show he did. Now comes his return to the recording studio, overseen with obvious devotion by Will Sheff of the Texas roots-rock band Okkervil River.
The emphasis here is on the more quiet and introspective Erickson--a strain of pretty if sometimes strange balladry that's run throughout his career--with the focus on his acoustic guitar and a voice that remains impressively vibrant, still evoking a mix of Buddy Holly and James Brown, as has often been said. In songs such as "Please Judge," "Bring Back the Past" and "Be and Bring Me Home," some actually years old, the artist longs for peace, but you can still sense the demons scratching at his door.
It's disappointing the monsters don't get to growl a bit more: Sheff hardly is Erickson's ideal collaborator; a much better choice would have been Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, who'd talked about wanting to repay a lifelong inspiration. Still, there are more than enough moments of gentle beauty to reward fans, even if new initiates would be much better off starting with one of several strong career retrospectives.