Album Review

Roky Erickson - I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology

Roky Erickson - I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology

First, forget everything you've ever heard about Roky Erickson -- the lead singer with the banshee wail for psychedelic pioneers the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, noted acid casualty and rock 'n' roll sacrificial lamb who was administered court-ordered shock treatments to atone for his sins, storied burnout obsessed with demons, ghosts, and all things evil who earned his rep as the Syd Barrett of Texas; the longest running thread through Austin's rock 'n' roll history and Austin's most famous musical mental case (Daniel Johnston got nothing on the Rok). Erase all that noisy static out of your mind.

Then slip this puppy into the CD player and discover one of the great song poets of the modern era. Roky Erickson's influence on such modernists as Big Star, R.E.M. and Yo La Tengo is clear and evident on each and every one these 43 tracks, culled from his brief history with the Elevators (who really did predate San Francisco's Summer of Love), from his post-1974 work fronting Blieb Alien & the Aliens, and from his solo recordings supported by casts of dozens.

(I was there when he cut "Two Headed Dog" and "Starry Eyes" at a studio on Sixth Street in 1974, allegedly produced by Doug Sahm, and it was all you might think it was and more -- moving me to conclude, among other things, that Duane Aslaksen's electric autoharp wasn't as distinctive as Tommy Hall's electric jug but had possibilities.)

Vocally, he wears his influences on his sleeve, beginning with Mick Jagger circa Out Of Our Heads on the first track "We Sell Soul" (on which he leads pre-Elevators band the Spades), and carrying all the way through to "Don't Shake Me Lucifer", which updates the Stones to Sticky Fingers vintage. There's a whole lot of Dylan, James Brown and some Buddy Holly and Screamin' Jay Hawkins in there too.

Lyrically, though, Erickson's in a zone of his own. "Splash 1", "We Are Never Talking" and "I'm Gonna Free Her" are about as pure as love songs get. Embrace the self-reverential ("Please Judge") for what it is, ignore the diabolic references, and the darkness yields to an unbridled optimism that worms its way into even the hard-rockers such as "Mine Mine Mind". Even in Roky Erickson's troubled world, good triumphs over evil in the end.