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4.8 out of 5 stars
Judee Sill
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 13 October 2007
This lady deserves to be up there with great songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny in my opinion. This album features the single " Jesus was a crossmaker " but for me the stand out track is definately Lady O. Just beautiful.

For those of you who know little about Judee here is a potted bio:

A singer/songwriter with deeply religious overtones and a penchant for the occult, Judee Sill is one of rock's more interesting and lesser-known stories. The daughter of old Hollywood money, Sill's father died when she was just a child, and her brother died in a car crash soon after, leading to a bleak outlook on life that she expressed in an arty, disaffected attitude. She disliked her stepfather and condemned her mother for remarrying; as a quiet form of vengeance, Sill set out to travel America and live a rambling lifestyle. She had been interested in playing music although was seemingly not serious about it until she began her travels, playing small coffee houses and dives for fun. She and her friends had always been into drugs for recreational and exploratory use, but as Sill stayed out on the road she began using heroin regularly, eventually developing a hundred-fifty-dollar-a-day habit. It was rumored (partly by Sill herself, although never confirmed) that she at one time had to prostitute herself in order to support her addiction. In the late '60s Sill was busted for heroin possession and served three months in prison, during which time she was able to kick her habit; when she returned to the world at large, she focused solely on making music. She returned to Los Angeles where, through her Hollywood connections, she was introduced to David Geffen. Geffen was in the process of creating Asylum Records, which was to focus exclusively on non-rock material. Taken by Sill's abilities as a writer and performer, Geffen immediately signed her to Asylum; her self-titled debut was also the first official release for the new label. It was through Geffen that she met Graham Nash, who quickly became a fan, and produced the first single for her album, "Jesus Was a Cross Maker." The rest of Judee Sill was orchestrated and produced by Bob Harris, Sill's ex-husband. Judee Sill was released in 1971 to immediate acclaim. Lushly orchestrated, the album featured Sill's voice in multiple overdubs, often in a four-part chorale or fugue. The album fit in well with the light rock/folk-rock underpinnings of what came to be known as the "Laurel Canyon sound" associated with other female singer/songwriters such as Carole King and Joni Mitchell (Mitchell, also signed to Asylum, was at work on Ladies of the Canyon at the time, which was also produced by Bob Harris). A tour as the opening act for Nash and David Crosby exposed her intimate songwriting and skillful guitar playing to a larger audience, but her record failed to make much of an impact, despite the somewhat heavy airplay of "Jesus Was a Cross Maker." A self-professed perfectionist, one song could often take her a year to write, and it wasn't until late 1972 that Sill returned to record and release her second and last album, Heart Food. It too received enthusiastic reviews but did poorly commercially. Sill took over the chores of both orchestrating and arranging Heart Food, with the production relying more heavily on multilayered strings and lush expanse. Unable to draw a sizable crowd yet unwilling to play as a support act, Sill's name and moderate fame both receded, and she disappeared from view entirely. Rumors abound as to what happened next, although it is definitely known that she returned to her heroin addiction as well as becoming heavily involved with cocaine. Graham Nash has said that he learned as early as 1974 that Sill had died of an overdose, a claim that would later prove to be incorrect, but considering how closely the two had worked only a few years earlier it does illustrate just how completely Sill had dropped out by this time. She never managed a second return from the abyss and Judee Sill, age 35, died of a drug overdose in November of 1979.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2007
I had probably only heard Judee's song JESUS WAS A CROSSMAKER a handful of times when it was released in the early 70s (?) yet it would regularly pop into my head unbidden over the years. Elliptical, elusive and quite beautiful, the word "haunting" could have been specially minted for this song. I bought the album 4 years ago on the basis of this one tune figuring "This is so wonderful, how bad can the rest be?" Not bad at all as it transpired. Indeed it was one of those rare experiences as I played the album in the car on the way back from the store where each track made it's own impact and felt like an old, familiar friend. Love at first listen. How she came to record a debut album with such a unique, fully realised style is a stunning mystery. That the record failed to convert critical acclaim into hard sales figures is a bleak reminder of the artistic injustice that is prevalent in the world of poular music - never more so than now where brazenly shallow mediocrity rules the entertainment industry.
As they say "if you like this kind of thing it's the kind of thing you like" so I am always reluctant to recommend an album to strangers but JUDEE SILL hit my personal top ten with a bullet, has remained there ever since and always will. It's a travesty that she died, unrecognised in vile, self-destructive circumstances having made only 2 records. A strange musical hybrid of Bach-type sequences and C & W instrumentation the songs are built from individualistic chord structures and the sweetest of melodies. She played both guitar and piano with fabulous heart and control and, as with all great musicians, as an extension of the self. With an opinion dividing American drawl and twang, and a nerveless lack of vibrato, she sang of her personal sexual/spiritual dichotomy, the hunger for emotional fulfillment, chronicling the characters who at turns entranced then disappointed her. She should have been a Joni Mitchell rivalling her for skill and invention but I guess she lacked the necessary steel, succumbing instead to deep insecurities and consequent heroin addiction. A troubled soul indeed, her hard times made for great music - for other troubled souls everywhere.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2008
Judee Sill's life story is worthy of being made into a film - her father was an importer of rare, exotic animals for use in Hollywood films, and also owned a bar where the young Judee started to learn piano. Within the next few years, Judee's father and brother both died and her alcoholic mother married an abusive Oscar-winning animator for Tom and Jerry.

Her teen years were rebellious - she became an armed robber by 17, and was sent to reform school for forgery, where she honed her craft as a pianist and organ player. Upon her release, she became addicted to heroin and turned to prostitution to fund her habit. She was jailed in the mid-1960s and kicked her habit cold turkey in a cell, resolving to pursue a career in music.

Her debut, 1971's Judee Sill, was the first release for David Geffen's Asylum label and the fact that it is a soft, delicate, almost fragile record is surprising considering the tough cookie who made it. This certainly doesn't sound like the music you would expect of a former heroin-addicted prostitute and armed robber. There is a Christian undercurrent in the music, from Sill's theological lyrics inspired by her interest in the occult and the Rosicrucian order, to the album cover image, where a crucifix is clearly seen on Sill's clothing.

Her voice is honeyed and twangy, not showy at all, with no vibrato. It's a clear, strong, plain sort of voice but it's memorable and also highly effective throughout. Sill's melodies are often highly complex and unusual, and the music, while mostly acoustic and folk-inspired, often brings in some surprising other elements - "Enchanted Sky Machines" has definite gospel licks, "Ridge Rider" is clip-clopping country, and "Abracadabra" swells to a climax of orchestral grandeur.

Songs like "Crayon Angels" and "Lady-O" bear beautiful, haunting melodies, but they are also extremely unique in structure. The arrangements owe as much to classical music as the acoustic fare of the era, and Sill described her biggest influences as Bach, Pythagoras, and Ray Charles - and it's not totally audacious. The arrangements and melodies do recall Bach, she worked out her harmonic parts using Pythagorean theorem, and she could play piano as bluesy and soulful as Charles. She may initially appear flowery and fey, but Sill was a highly intelligent woman interested in obscure philosophical books, and was also interested in alchemy, astrology, and had a penchant for the occult. All of this is weaved into her magical music, which is highly intricate and expertly crafted.

The reissued version features a live set from October 3, 1971, where Sill played solo on guitar and piano as an opener for Crosby and Nash, and there are also bonus demo recordings too, and excellent liner notes from Michele Kort.

Judee Sill did not sell well during her lifetime, and it is only in the last five years that her legend has grown in much the same way as Nick Drake, who might be described as a similar artist. These are softly passionate and innately beautiful songs that deserve investigation.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 22 February 2007
I do not normally write reviews but I bought this and Heartfood as LPs in the 70's and they are among my favourite albums. One of the other reviewers said they sound uninteresting at first but they sure stand repeated and repeated playing. I could not understand at the time why she was not feted as a great talent. I find a spirituality in all her work which is unusual. It's great that I can finally get CDs of both albums.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 30 November 2005
After the adulation of Eva Cassidy and the continued deification of Nick Drake, is the music world ready for the next great re-discovery?
Judee Sill made only a couple of albums before drugs cut short her life, but this record is proof that her legacy should live on. it is a hauntingly beuatiful affair, with melodies that will lodge themselves in your head after only a couple of plays.
You need to get past the sub-Mamas & Papas la-di-da-ing and the irritation of too many late 60s strings poured like warm honey over some of the tracks, but the effort is worthwhile. This album will be in your CD player for weeks on end.
Try the first few bars of 'Abracadabra', gloriously enigmatic and ethereal; the unforgettable melody of 'Crayon Angels' or the punchy 'Jesus Was a Crossmaker', produced by Graham Nash. This is an album of fine songs delivered by a lady gifted with a silken voice, up there with the likes of Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell & Eva Cassidy as one of the great female vocalists of all time. The only regret is how much more she could have produced if her life was not so cut short.
Give this album to someone you love, or better still, buy it for yourself and treasure its every note!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2010
I cant stop playing this cd!!I only discoverd Judee Sill two days ago after watching a late night BBC4 compilation programe called singer songwriters..Judee came on and sang a song from her second album(cant remember the name of the track).i was immediatly mesmersised by her voice and melody,and bought the her first and second cds the next day.WOW!!!This first album is beautiful,and the first time i heard Lady-o i kept paying it over and over!Its so beautiful and worth the money i paid just for this track.I aso must add that The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown and My Man On Love are also incredibly beautiful tracks,the whole cd has a beautiful quality to it(havnt had the chance to absorb the 2nd cd Heart Food as yet as im still very much into this one).Rip judee sill,and thank you for leaving behind your beautiful music that im sure will live on for ever and ever..
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This was the greatest discovery I made in 2005.

Judee Sill was obviously a major talent - yet a combination of her own demons and industry politics denied her the prominence that was her due.

I urge you to buy both this and 'Heart Food' and give some posthumous recognition to a criminally neglected artist. I can promise you you won't regret either purchase.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 July 2009
What a compulsively interesting person Judee Sill seems to have been, taking in exalted numinous songstress, call girl, armed robber and drug addict. This was a girl who lived, not just a naive hippie waif, but her fame was brief and her end tragic. Drug overdose in 1979.

A pity that, because this woman produced a mesmerising catalogue of songs. The undoubted highlight... the track you should listen to first... is in fact the last track of the second disc, the remixed version of "The Donor".

This wonderful song is hard to describe, a solemn, stately piece of funereal music with Christian hints but to whom, and for what purpose is unclear. It begins with a piano passage, rapidly evolves into a complex wordless chorale, before Judee starts singing, to a chorus of "kyrie eleison". It rises to a climax that actually moved me to tears when i first heard it, and ends with a wonderful tiny flourish again on the piano before fading mysteriously away. Utterly gorgeous, utterly unique and the only track i can think of that vaguely touches the same territory is Brian Wilson's melancholy "Surf's Up". The Donor is worth the price of the album. It reminds me of the hush of stained glass windows and dim, candle lit cathedrals. It is the essence of a soul's yearning for the divine.

One great bonus of this album are the live 1971 tracks back when she opened for some form of CSN & Y megaconcert or other in 1971. You can hear the size of the audience which obviously did not come for her and which sits really oddly with this intimate, self-effacing music. But she pulls it all off magnificently.

Judee Sill does not have a thin or high or frail voice, nor - as others have mentioned - a vibrato, which makes her all the more of an oddity, as this was an age when wierd warbling voices were almost de rigeur.

Fantastic songs, though, sung in her wonderful, wry, honest voice. "Abracradabra", "The lamb ran away with the crown" and "Jesus was a cross maker" are stand-outs, but "The Pearl" is another great great song. And "There's a rugged road" is no slouch either.

I'd say that the second album Heart Food - which is the second disc here - slightly edges the first.

I hope somewhere she is still "Loping through the Cosmos" and found peace. But what a wise, funny, poetic, noetic soul she comes across as. Indispensable listening, and as good in its own way as that other forgotten classic singer from the era, Linda Perhacs. Both knock the socks off early Joni Mitchell.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a beautiful album from a shamefully underrated artist.I don't think I could place Sill in one specific genre and this album veers from quiet acoustic folk, to country to mystical gospel.

There is not a bad song on this album. Indeed, songs like Ridge Rider and Enchanted Sky Machines are for the ages and deserve to be heard by a wider audience.

The album is low-key in approach, certainly in comparison to the (also highly recommended) lush follow-up Heart Food, but this (mainly) bare bones production allows Judee's beautiful voice and lyrics to take centre stage.

I recommend listening to this album late at night with dimmed lights and a large whisky.
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on 30 November 2005
After the adulation of Eva Cassidy and the continued deification of Nick Drake, is the music world ready for the next great re-discovery?
Judee Sill made only a couple of albums before drugs cut short her life, but this record is proof that her legacy should live on. it is a hauntingly beuatiful affair, with melodies that will lodge themselves in your head after only a couple of plays.
You need to get past the sub-Mamas & Papas la-di-da-ing and the irritation of too many late 60s strings poured like warm honey over some of the tracks, but the effort is worthwhile. This album will be in your CD player for weeks on end.
Try the first few bars of 'Abracadabra', gloriously enigmatic and ethereal; the unforgettable melody of 'Crayon Angels' or the punchy 'Jesus Was a Crossmaker', produced by Graham Nash. This is an album of fine songs delivered by a lady gifted with a silken voice, up there with the likes of Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell & Eva Cassidy as one of the great female vocalists of all time. The only regret is how much more she could have produced if her life was not so cut short.
Give this album to someone you love, or better still, buy it for yourself and treasure its every note!
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