It’s hard to pin down where to start with an artist that suffered such an incredibly turbulent life and at the same time, composed – on par with Bach and Brian Wilson – brilliant, even genius level work. Sadly, tragedy was inevitable for Sill. Her father died when she was a child; her only brother did the same not too long after; her mother was an abusive alcoholic; and in her teenage years she began robbing liquor stores and gas stations. LSD, and eventually heroin, came shortly after and ultimately landed her in a reform school where she became the church organist.
Judee was always a devout christian, but it was in this church where she developed her gospel style as a musician and led her down the road of including the spiritual overtones that permeated in her recordings. She described them as “country-cult-baroque,” and began playing Hollywood nightclubs in the late ’60s. After meeting Graham Nash and David Crosby, Judee became their opening act and was discovered by famed LA record exec David Geffen.
The first artist to be signed to his new label Asylum, she released her more praised self title debut in 1971. However her follow up, Heart Food, is the one to be heard. The music is far more complex. Without any training, she composed all of the orchestral arrangements herself, spent much of her studio time endlessly overdubbing and multi-layering tracks (much to producer Henry Lewy’s dismay) and procured an album that is rich with breezy 70’s laurel canyon folk, echoes of Bach, contains latin Gregorian chants and has a plethora of awe-inspiring moments that can only be described as divine.
That’s especially illustrated in the two key and most tear-inducing tracks, “The Kiss” and the ambitious eight-minute hymnal closer “The Donor.” Religious or not, these two pieces cross the divide and it would take a person with a spirit of stone to not feel moved.
The record was released in ’73 and drew acclaim by critics, but it didn’t sell and Asylum stopped promoting the album. No longer touring, she became deeply frustrated with the industry, succumbed to her heroin addiction and just a few years later fatally overdosed in 1979. Her life was difficult and tragic. That shouldn’t be the focus, but it’s crucial in understanding the complicated mind behind a small but wholly unique and inimitable body of work.
Recommended – A2 The Kiss, B1 Soldier Of The Heart, B4 The Donor
Tags: Essential Listening / Home Listening