JUDEE SILL – ” Judee Sill – Heartfood ” Reissues

Posted: January 24, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Judee Sill performing on a British TV show in April 1972 while on tour to promote her first album.

Intervention Records have announced that Judee Sill’s classic 1971 debut, Judee Sill (Cat# IR-016), and her stellar followup Heart Food (Cat# IR-017) have both been re-issued. Each album is cut as a double-45RPM LP set and pressed on dead-quiet 180-gram vinyl. Both LPs are anticipated to street in June 2017 and are available for pre-order now. Sill’s rising stardom was one of misfortune and adversity that culminated in her death at the age of 35.

Judee Sill’s career had all the makings of a great singer-songwriter story. She was at the center of the 1970s folk-rock scene in California, alongside contemporaries like Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther. she toured with major musicians like Graham Nash and David Crosby, who both contributed to her debut album.

In a sea of male singers and songwriters, Sill emerged, along with Joni Mitchell and a handful of others, as one of the few women who wrote and sang their own songs.

The astonishing Judee Sill was the first artist signed to David Geffen’s Asylum Records, and Judee Sill the first album released on the label. Sill’s music is intensely spiritual, redolent of mystical and divine imagery, yet grounded by great songwriting and a pure but powerful singing talent. Her songs impart incredible intimacy that is enhanced by her sometimes complex string arrangements (remarkably Sill arranged and conducted the strings/orchestra on these albums!).  

Sill’s life was tragic personally and professionally. Her father and brother were killed when Sill was young, and her tempestuous relationship with her alcoholic (and remarried) mother resulted in her leaving home at 15. She committed robberies and began a battle she was destined to lose against drug addiction. When stardom didn’t follow the critical acclaim of these two albums her career never recovered. Sill was dead from a drug overdose in 1979 at just 35. Judee Sill was working on songs for her third album when she died.

To escape her fractured family, Sill made decisions that would land her in reform school and later, in jail.

After her first marriage, right out of high school, was quickly annulled, Sill sought a way to deflect from her unhappiness. An acquaintance introduced her to a man who was experienced in armed robbery, who brought her along on his excursions to liquor stores and gas stations. By the time she was 20, she had been caught and sent to reform school. Her second marriage, in her early 20s, was to a man she met while attending Los Angeles Valley Junior College. He introduced her to heroin. “I knew I was gonna become a junkie, and I did,” Sill told Rolling Stone. At one point she turned to prostitution to fund their habit.

Through it all, she dabbled in music. In each of the chapters that form her life — from spending time in her father’s bar, where, as a young girl, she “started playin’ piano and found out I could harmonize with myself,” to reform school, where she worked as the church organist, finding early inspiration from gospel music

It was during a stint in jail, having been caught for forgery and narcotics possession, that she started fantasizing about writing her own songs. After she was released, she immersed herself in the practice. Music became the central force in her life, and she found inspiration for her songs in books about religion and the occult. “I could see that I was gonna have to write songs that were about those things,” she told Rolling Stone. “I came to some important inner realizations, tryin’ to make the laws of nature work for me instead of against me. I felt instinctively that it was my duty to throw myself into it all the way, so I did.”

She sold one of her songs, “Lady-O,” to the rock band the Turtles, which released it as a single that made it onto the Billboard pop chart in 1969. She would record the song for her first album, two years later. Her debut album, called simply “Judee Sill.” From the first song, “Crayon Angels,” to the last, “Abracadabra,” her lyrics addressed the metaphysical.

“Jesus Was a Cross Maker,” the only song on the album produced by Graham Nash, was released as a single. (The rest of the album was produced by Henry Lewy.) After a devastating breakup with a fellow songwriter, Sill read Nikos Kazantzakis’s 1952 novel, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” as a salve, which led her to the seeds of the song.

“I was so excited when I was writing’ that song because it was not only the best thing I’d ever written, and I knew it, but it took the weight off my heart and turned it into somethin’ else, and I was able to forgive the guy for the horrible romantic bummer he’d put me on,” she said. “And I gained a new kind of strength from it, from that combination of forgiveness and creation.”

The brevity of Judee’s musical legacy is outweighed by the emotional power and weight of these two extraordinary albums. “Judee Sill” and “Heart Food” were AAA mastered directly from the original analog master tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio. The master tapes are in beautiful shape, and listeners will be blown away by the revelatory inner detail and three-dimensionality retrieved from these achingly gorgeous recordings. These new Intervention reissues represent THE definitive listening experience for these classic LPs! The original LP art has been beautifully restored by IR’s Tom Vadakan and the old-style, “tip-on, brown-in” gatefold jackets are printed by Stoughton.

Warren Zevon, Shawn Colvin and others have covered her songs; the multi-hyphenate Greta Gerwig sang one, “Rugged Road,” in a scene in the 2010 film “Greenberg.” Every decade or so her music is reissued. Intervention Records obtained the rights to her albums in 2017.

In 1974 Judee Sill recorded material for a third album at the studio of Michael Nesmith, best known as a member of the Monkees. Those songs were released in 2005 as “Dreams Come True,” a double CD, by Water Records.

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