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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 31 May 2006
Poor Judee.This is some of the best music made in the seventies, its deeper,higher and more soulful than most of her singer songwriting peers,her arrangements and production more thoughtful and considered. There is a really deep yearning in this stuff that links her emotionally with gram parsons and brian wilson,it has one foot in country but its head is somewhere else, particular favourites- 'Lady O','Lopin along through the cosmos', the demos of 'the Phoenix' and 'crossmaker' on her debut, and 'the kiss', 'the valley' song and 'soldier of the heart' from soul food, anyone of these songs heard alone at night on headphones would convert pretty much anyone to her music im sure and good old Rhino for sticking this together, too bad about the cover as it is advertised on this page, but dont let that keep you from this beautiful transcendant music.its way up there god bless her.
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With her so uncool Granny glasses, plain Jane straight hair and hard-to-pigeonhole melodies - JUDEE SILL's duo of Asylum Label LPs have gathered a cult-status that refuses to go away. Yet as someone who worked in a busy secondhand record shop in London's West End for near twenty years - I can remember in the late Eighties and Nineties when you couldn't give "Judee Sill" or "Heart Food" away. Much like Emitt Rhodes on Probe or Eric Andersen on Capitol (see reviews for both) - they'd sit in the racks in their gatefold sleeves unloved and unwanted. And clearly from this gorgeous 2CD retrospective - that was something of a collective mistake. It's not all genius by any means - but when she hits that mark - her music is truly beautiful. So here are the cross makers and the soldiers of the heart...

Released June 2006 - "Abracadabra: The Asylum Years" on Rhino/Asylum 8122 79534 2 (Barcode 081227953423) breaks down as follows...

Disc 1 (77:26 minutes):
1. Crayon Angels
2. The Phantom Cowboy
3. The Archetypal Man
4. The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown
5. Lady-O
6. Jesus Was A Cross Maker
7. Ridge Rider
8. My Man On Love
9. Lopin' Along Thru The Cosmos
10. Enchanted Sky Machines
11. Abracadabra
Tracks 1 to 11 are her debut album "Judee Sill" - released September 1971 in the USA on Asylum SD-5050 and May 1972 in the UK on Asylum SYLA 8751

12. The Pearl (Original Version)
13. The Phoenix (Original Version)
Tracks 12 and 13 were removed from the album to make room for the late inclusion of "Jesus Was A Cross Maker" and subsequently re-recorded for "Heart Food"

14. Ridge Rider (Alternate Version)
15. My Man On Love (Alternate Version)
14 and 15 are Previously Unreleased outtakes from the "Judee Sill" sessions

16. Intro/The Vigilante
17. Lady-O
18. Enchanted Sky Machines
19. The Archetypical Man
20. Crayon Angels
21. The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown
22. Jesus Was A Cross Maker
Tracks 16 to 22 were recorded 'Live In Boston Music Hall', 3 October 1971
Tracks 12 to 22 were first issued on the Rhino Handmade CD Edition of "Judee Sill" on RHM2 7836 in 2003

Disc 2 (77:56 minutes):
1. There's A Rugged Road
2. The Kiss
3. The Pearl
4. Down Where The Valleys Are Low
5. The Vigilante
6. Soldier Of The Heart
7. The Phoenix
8. When The Bridegroom Comes
9. The Donor
10. (No Title)
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Heart Food" - released March 1973 in the USA on Asylum SD 5063 and April 1973 in the UK on Asylum SYL 9006

11. The Desperado (outtake from the "Heart Food" sessions)

12. The Kiss
13. Down Where The Valleys Are Low
14. The Donor
15. Soldier Of The Heart
16. The Phoenix
17. The Vigilante
18. The Pearl
19. There's A Rugged Road
Tracks 12 to 19 are Solo Demos for the "Heart Food" album

20. The Donor (Alternate Mix) - Previously Unreleased
Tracks 10 to18 first issued on the Rhino Handmade CD Edition of "Heart Food" on RHM2 7802 in 2003

With its card slipcase, a 20-page sepia-tinted booklet and CD labels that reflect the original Asylum 'door in the sky' logo - this feels like a classy release - and it is. First up is the truly beautiful remastering by long-standing Rhino stalwarts DAN HERSCH and DAVE SCHULTZ. Co-ordinator ANDY ZAC explains in the liner notes that the first generation Stereo master tapes had inherent glitches and distorted her voice. Hidden by vinyl to some degree -the CD is less forgiving - but given that - the job they've done is fabulous - as faithful and as clear as the music is ever going to be. On quieter songs like the piano-driven "When The Bridegroom Comes" - their deftness of touch really lifts the song.

Her two minor hits are here - The Turtles covered "Lady-O" and The Hollies "Jesus Was A Cross Maker" - but her "There's A Rugged Road" impresses more (Shawn Colvin does a gorgeous version of it on her "Cover Girl" CD from 1994). "My Man On Love" has her signature magic - as lovely a melody as you've ever heard. It was put on the flipside of "Sky Enchanted Machines" when it got released in September 1972 in the UK as a 7" single (Asylum AYM 509). "The Archetypal Man" is witty and perceptive too and I love the 'Alternate Version' of "Ridge Rider" which is simplified and better for it.

But if I were to single out three masterpieces - two would be on the hugely accomplished "Heart Food" album. First is probably everybody's favourite - the moving and beautiful ache of "The Kiss" - wow! If you get the chance -check out The Old Grey Whistle Test footage of her doing this live with just a piano in 1973 (lyrics from it title this review). Second is the epic 9-minute hymn-like finisher "The Donor" which MICHELE KORT rightly gives paragraphs to in her wonderfully detailed and heartfelt liner notes. It goes off into staggering vocal tangents and pirouettes that predate Kate Bush - and with the combined male and female voices repeating a Kyrie Eleison refrain throughout (Lord Have Mercy) - its musical ambition is like a female Todd Rundgren on a roll. The complicated tympani and vibes arrangements alone must have taken months to get down. It's astonishing stuff.

But best of all is the set's prize - a previously unreleased outtake that I feel matches even "The Kiss". It's called "The Desperado" and should have finished the album instead of the non-titled Track 10 that is merely an Irish air instrumental that might have seemed like fun at the time - but now seems superfluous and badly misjudged. "The Desperado" would have brought the album full-circle - even into Joni Mitchell territory. It's beautifully produced - a lovely acoustic melody - what a find.

Judee Sill won't be for everyone for sure and some may wonder what all the fuss is about - but I've been moved to tears many times by the beauty and talent available on this gorgeous 2CD release.

Aged only 35 - she died at home 23 November 1979 from a drug overdose - with her loss barely reported anywhere. Rest with the angels you beautiful lady...
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VINE VOICEon 4 June 2006
Great lost artist ...blah blah blah...Criminally underrated....blah blah blah ...Should have sold a gazillion albums blah blah blah. It's very tedious when everybody says the same thing all the time until it becomes a cliché. Except like most clichés there is a great deal of truth implicit in the following statement. Judee Sill is criminally underrated (though her critical profile is definitely on the up), is a great lost artist (though that's being remedied to some degree by the re-release of her two albums and the recent release of her aborted third "Dreams Come True") and she should have sold a lot of albums. There is still time.

What will help in that department, indeed in all three, is this album which has amalgamated her first two albums on the Asylum label into one release. Previously her first two albums, the eponymous debut and "Heart Food" were only available on CD on import which made them expensive and hard to track down, though I would say unequivocally they were well worth the effort... This release will improve that situation. There can be no excuse now. Everyone should consider it their duty to buy this album and listen to it a lot.

Why? Because with very few exceptions and in some cases -" Jesus Was A Crossmaker" "The Kiss" , "Soldier Of My Heart"- none, this is the most sublime music anyone will ever hear. Sills voice is pure and unaffected yet utterly affecting .There is no show boating or extraneous frippery , just gorgeous note perfect singing. Classically trained and a hugely gifted song writer she encompasses country through the opaque gauze of 70,s California but gives the arrangements a complex classical twist. Some of the songs on this release are so great they will remove you from whatever environment you are in and seal you a little rainbow clouded bubble with just you and her and of course the music. Judee Sill really is that good.

This re-issue also includes all the demos and alternate tracks that have previously been available on the Rhino Handmade versions including an eight minute version of "The Donor ". Sill battled an addiction to opiate drugs all her adult life and eventually succumbed to an "Acute cocaine and codeine intoxication" in 1979. A truly great loss to music. But her music is still with us of course and if there is any justice in this misbegotten world this album will sell by the truck load and her name will become as well known as Joni Mitchell's .It's the least her astonishing music deserves.
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on 8 February 2007
All this is great stuff; 5 stars and an "essential" purchase.

It's pointless to compare Judee Sill with other artists, her vocal phrasing and poetry were subtly different from her contemporaries. Listen to "Jesus was a Cross Maker" and you'll know what I mean.

I had the privilege of seeing her live in a tiny club (the long lamented Van Dyke in Plymouth) and can still remember the gig despite the over 30 years that have passed...
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VINE VOICEon 3 November 2010
What a talent.She is easily up there with Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro,yet she has literally 'passed away' from public consciousness.Her songs should be better known and recorded by other artists.What strikes me are the religiousness(perhaps this told against her in the 70s) and the classical underpinnings to her music.She has a very ascetic appearance,and yet beautiful,lush,sweet harmonies.She is pared down and totally transparent, so the music pours from her as a perfect vessel.Catching her 1st time on BBC4 series of 'singer-songwriter's' in 2010 sent me after her CDS.'Heart Food' is obviously her best.A masterpiece. She uses her voice as another instrument.

Released before Dylan recorded his religious albums,these steal the glory on his ones,which although very good and showing another side to Dylan,cannot compete with Sill's gospel-influenced piano tones and spiritually uplifting lyrics,and her Bach-flavored metric forms and suites.Along with her delicate finger-picking guitar work her piano has a bluesy,church-like quality which she extends when playing live(Enchanted Sky Machines).Her religious lyrics show feelings of repentance and rapture.The voice angelic.Her song intros in live sessions and performance are very dry and witty."The lower you go down to gain your momentum from,the higher up it will propel you"(Jesus was a cross-maker) when she found both that Jesus was a cross-maker and she'd also had a relationship with a man who had broken her heart."He's a bandit and a heart-breaker, rhymes with Jesus was a cross-maker,even that wretched b------was not beyond redemption".

Her voice on Heart Food had become stronger,remaining unembellished;her voice is over-dubbed or given vocal backing.The basis for each arrangement was guitar or piano, on which was layered a tasteful collection of strings, her acoustic guitar backed by country-style violins,pedal steel guitar and other instruments.She herself conducted the strings.My favorite song is `Pearl',counselling herself to avoid drugs and `wait for a pearl just round the bend'.'Down where the Valleys are Low' is a masterpiece with female,backing session singers'harmonies,organ, bluesy electric guitar,tambourine,50s rhythm and blues for the spirit.

She uses occult ideas of the animus in her songs,singing of various Cowboy Angels of Soldiers of the Heart.There is also a fight between good and evil in her songs,her songs are like prayers to drive out curses of bad-luck and ill-omen.'The Donor' is a meditative,religious requiem with a religious mantra as chorus,'Kyie Eleison',sung in harmony with the male voices.A mystical piece.Her performances are precise,her singing pitch-perfect.Despite its critical acclaim,her album received scant attention and fewer sales.After a car crash,her life took a turn for the worse and she died of a drug overdose in 1979.Yet her music still rises on `phosphorous wings'(The Phoenix)over riding pain with beauty.Truly for me a discovery,a missing link to the sounds of the Canyon musicians of the 70s.Get 'Abracadabra:The Asylum Years-Judee Sill/Heart Food'.
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Together with the Dreams Come True collection, Abracadabra comprises the complete Judee Sill catalogue, so far as we know. Rhino have reissued both of Judee's albums with extra studio and live tracks. The two albums are worth hearing in any form. Judee's songwriting and arranging skills developed at a remarkable speed and there is a headspinning variety of styles on display. This is simply timeless, great music.

Applause must go to Michelle Kort for her insightful and informative liner notes. These were originally two separate essays available in Rhino's limited editions of the two albums a couple of years ago. Now they have been combined into a seamless whole for Abracadabra.

All in all, a fabulous tribute to a fine artist whose work deserves to be appreciated. Long live Judee!
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on 30 September 2014
I love this CD, which I bought after hearing a Radio 4 documentary. Judee has such a beautiful voice, made all the more poignant when you read her life story. My favourite track is 'Jesus was a crossmaker'. Strange title, but I loved it. So sad that her demise came too soon and that her work was 'lost' for many years. I recommend it.
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on 1 May 2014
Judee Sill was another of those songwriters who I caught a glimpse of in the 1970s, only to lose sight of altogether until the Internet came to the rescue (others included Jaki Whitren, Brian Protheroe, Chris Rainbow and Chris White – more of them all later). Sill’s story, though, is a tragic one – her discovery by David Geffen in 1971 and the subsequent record deal might have helped salvage a life that was already going off the rails by that time. The album Judee Sill was the first release on the Asylum label, and included the single “Jesus Was a Cross Maker,” produced by Graham Nash and covered later by many others, including Cass Elliot, Warren Zevon and Judy Tzuke. Sill became associated with the Laurel Canyon group of singer-songwriters that included Carole King and Joni Mitchell. A second record, Heart Food, appeared in 1972, but it wasn’t enough to sustain her career. Sill disappeared from view, worked as a cartoonist for a while, and died in November 1979 of a drug overdose.

For years the recordings were hard to get hold of, and they didn’t get reissued on CD until 2005, along with the remnants of a third album, Dreams Come True made up of demos from 1974. The songs, all originals, are folk-influenced (though classical, country and gospel aspects are there too), and many of the lyrics and titles use a strange mixture of religious and sexual imagery. Most striking of all are the intricate multi-tracked vocals laid down using elaborate counterpoint and rich harmony. “The Lamb Ran Away with the Crown” (from the first album) has all of this. The biblical references in the lyrics are clear: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). But they are mixed up with mythology and mysticism, such as images of demonic possession derived from the poetry of Aleister Crowley, which Sill had read.

Though the beast within me’s a liar
He made me glow with a strange desire
And I rode on the fire
With a blue sacred opal to bless the battleground

But by the end of the song the demon has been exorcised. “But I laughed so hard I cried/And the lamb ran away with the crown.” And on those words Sill constructs a celebratory choral ending, skillfully weaving together three separate vocal melodies and an instrumental line played on baritone sax. It’s an ending that might have been produced by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Both of the two 1970s albums are full of strong, individual material – it’s great to have them back.
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on 30 April 2012
I had come across references to Judee Sill on a few occasions and always thought that I might like her music but it was still a big step to buying a CD in hope rather than expectation. Having finally taken this step, I must say that I have not been disappointed. I love this CD and am now a huge fan. Of the 2 original albums, the second (Heart Food) is a little more sophisticated musically but the first has some absolute gems as well and it is hard to say which one I prefer. It is very interesting to speculate how this talented signer songwriter might have developed over time and doubtless I shall be buying the never released/demo third album in due course. One can't help wondering why Judee didn't become a major star while she was alive; she certainly should have. All one can now hope is that more people discover her music and like me, wonder what if?
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on 30 August 2006
Very little to add to the above except to agree, these really are beautiful, holy, catchy as hell and accessible pop songs, like Joni Mitchell crossed with Karen Carpenter, only good instead of horrific... Listen to some clips/samples and if you're even halfway tempted, try it.
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