Review: Roky Erickson’s Songs Get Elevated On A Belated, Heartfelt Follow-Up To 1990’s ‘Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye’ 

Various Artists
May The Circle Remain Unbroken:A Tribute to Roky Erickson
(Light in the Attic)
4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

The music business needs more people like Bill Bentley. The long time industry veteran has been a tireless supporter for many fringe artists, none more so than Roky Erickson. Over the decades, Bentley has almost single-handedly raised the profile of this troubled but talented ex-13th Floor Elevators frontman through his crusading for the often hidden (at least from the mainstream) gifts.

Bentley’s fandom runs deep, something clear in the expansive posthumous letter he writes to Erickson in the 16 page book that accompanies this release. It both explains the profound effect Erickson had on Bentley’s life and acts as a capsule history of the under-the-radar artist’s complex and often shockingly tragic career; one that includes imbibing massive drugs and a life altering stint in Texas’ Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

Some may remember Bentley’s first Erickson tribute, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye in 1990, which Bentley executive produced. It included covers of Erickson songs by a diverse assortment of acts that ran from superstars ZZ Top and REM to lesser known names like Poi Dog Pondering, Bongwater and Julian Cope.

Bentley returns with this second volume of equally eclectic names playing a dozen more tracks (two are repeated from the 1990 release, although performed by different people) cherry picked from the singer/songwriter’s generally obscure catalog.

It kicks off with Billy Gibbons’ gutsy, psychedelic bluesy “(I’ve Got) Levitation,” a nod to ZZ Top, who opened the previous homage with a fiery take on “Reverberation (Doubt).” It starts the set on a rocking note followed later by a rugged, almost unhinged “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (probably Erickson’s most covered track) from an out-there Lucinda Williams. Strap in as Gary Clark Jr. and Eve Monsees dive into “Roller Coaster” with a force as rowdy as the ride in the song’s title. And on “Night of the Vampire,” Ty Segal captures the gritty, garage psychedelic heart that beats through much of Erickson’s work.

The other half of the album runs to a more ballad and ominous approach to his work. Mark Lanegan and Lynn Castle duet on a lovely “Clear Night for Love,” an acoustic, stripped down, earnest example of Erickson’s tender side. The Black Angels’ dreamy “Don’t Fall Down” leads into Niko Case’s soulful, near a cappella “Be and Bring Me Home,” one of this most riveting performances on the disc. Brogan Bentley, Bill’s son, brings it home with the pensive, dreamy, clearly heartfelt title track which mirrors the druggy, atmospheric sound of the 1968 original, the final song on the Elevators’ last album.  

The down side is that at just a dozen selections filling 44 minutes, there is room for nearly twice as much music. While May the Circle Remain Unbroken is a wonderful and long overdue companion to the earlier anthology, perhaps this can be an ongoing project. Erickson’s largely unheard catalog, both solo and with the Elevators, deserves the attention. And Bentley would likely be on board for more of what he has already accomplished with these two volumes that will hopefully expose the late Erickson’s music to a larger audience.    

Photo by Todd Wolfson

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