Bentley's Bandstand: Susan Cowsill, The Nels Cline Singers, Roky Erickson with Okkervil River

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billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

Susan Cowsill, Lighthouse, Threadhead Records

If you truly love New Orleans, it’s like being seduced by another person. The way the colorful characters there exist in their own world, the trees are ancient and grow to mythic beauty while the air is full of musical notes that play a song of endless intrigue, that’s what turns souls aflutter. When the flood following Hurricane Katrina almost broke the warm heart of the Crescent City, it felt like a loved one was dying. Singer Susan Cowsill lived through that tragedy, and lost a brother to the waters. Now, on an album of haunting greatness, the storm and its awful aftermath become a personal story of love, loss and, ultimately, hope. The faith in nature’s ability to heal runs through many of these songs, along with a belief in the human spirit to rise above the pain that tries to hold it down. Cowsill’s voice is an instrument of feeling, whether she’s caressing the lyrics of “Sweet Bitter End” or bringing home the street beat on “Avenue of the Indians.” And add extra points for an affecting cover of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston,” another town that’s been through its share of storms. Lighthouse is a beacon of inspiration for a woman, a city and mostly for all of us. It’s time to come home.

The Nels Cline Singers, Initiate, Cryptogramophone Records

Nels Cline might possibly be the most inventive guitarist playing today. That he is an integral member of Wilco gives him a huge palette to paint on in that popular band, and makes it feel like there is justice in this world. Add to that Cline’s energetic quest to express himself in other outfits, and he continues to astound. The man is like an unrelenting explorer, and his musical excursions are sometimes beautiful, other times jarring, but never uninvolving. Sometimes they sound like feuding gerbils locked in a vicious game of tennis, and others resemble a gorgeous dawn in a glorious mountain range, with everything in between included on Initiate. One studio and one live disc allow Nels Cline, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola, along with several guest players, the opportunity to go wherever they want, and it is an extraordinary trip. There is a moment on the Grateful Dead’s 1969 double-album Live/Dead during “Dark Star” when Jerry Garcia and the boys head off for the cosmos. You can hear it and feel it. That jumping-off point often seems like where The Nels Cline Singers start, and it is immediately clear there is no stopping them. They have the amazing ability to pull off everything they try with such natural grace it is almost unreal. Listening to Cline play is like watching a magician. Sometimes all you can say is, “How does he do that?” And be so very glad he can.

Roky Erickson with Okkervil River, True Love Cast Out All Evil, Anti- Records

There is no rock artist remotely like Roky Erickson. He has been to the absolute heights of human consciousness, followed by the frightening depths of mental illness. As lead singer with the 13th Floor Elevators in the 1960s, Erickson helped invent psychedelic music. And then his mind exploded. The rollercoaster ride since would have killed most men, but this one has lived to see another day. And what a day it is. His new album opens doors that allow the singer to shimmer and shine, and show sides of himself that have remained hidden far too long. Erickson’s voice is one that invites openness, like he took roads traveling past the end of the line, and is revelatory the way it defies the ravages of the past. Instead, Roky Erickson sings to the heavens and hell, and makes life seem it is full of magical properties. Okkervil River are mind-boggling as the band on these recordings, creating walls of sonic brilliance that is surely the music of the spheres. The words on the cover of the album booklet, “If you be and let be these words you can receive,” have a resounding ring of truth, like all of True Love Cast Out All Evil. Leave it to Roky Erickson, who has been defying predictions of doom over 40 years, to show just how that happens.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.