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Judee Sill- Judee Sill (1971)

February 23, 2011

I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way.  In the last year, I’ve become a total Judee Sill fanboy.

“Why?” you may ask.

Is it because of the amazing, albeit troubled, story of her short life? Partially.

Is it because of her beautiful voice? Yeah.

Is it because of her graceful arrangements? Certainly.

But, the one thing that I think I love most about Judee Sill is how genuine her music feels.  Whether she’s singing about spaceships coming down to take the faithful away or phantom cowboys riding through her dreams, you never get the feeling that you’re being put on.  In this day and age when so many artists are mired in tired genre exercises or winking bits of ironic detachment, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear someone laying out words and music that is definitely, quietly defiantly, her own.

Her debut, 1971’s Judee Sill, was released to little fanfare and has gone on to continue inspiring an entire gamut of reactions in the general public, ranging from looks of confusion when mentioned in casual conversation to having to plan your day around avoiding certain people after cornering them and espousing the greatness of an obscure singer, for the past forty years.  Yet, this is quickly becoming one of my favorite records.  The reason why is it basically combines two of my favorite things, good lyrics and good music.

1.     Sill is first and foremost a singer-songwriter in the folk and country tradition.  Though her lyrical themes and classical leanings set her apart, the easiest comparisons among her contemporaries would be her label mates on Asylum Records, namely J.D. Souther, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, and the Eagles (when they were still country-rock).  No matter how baroque her arrangements become, she never gets mired in these extra trappings.  At their core, 11 songs are still based around the simple elements of her voice and guitar or piano.

2.     Sill is not only in the singer-songwriter tradition musically, but lyrically as well.  Every one of her songs incorporates one of two major elements.  Love and faith.  While I usually try to appreciate the story of an artist’s life and their work on two different levels, it’s hard not to consider these songs even more powerful when you know that they are being sung from the perspective of a former (and future) heroin addict and part-time criminal and prostitute who truly yearns for those two things.

Now, if you were to have told me a year ago that I would be writing positively about a non-gospel album where every song could be construed to be about Christianity, I probably would have laughed in your face.  Believe me, I’ve got no problems with religious themes in music (as will become evident when I get around to reviewing some more of my plethora of country and folk records), but if I hear that I’m in for 35 minutes of Jesus jams, I’m expecting the kind of music that typically leads to people putting one hand up and swaying back and forth at a concert as some dude drones on about how much he loves the Lord. In a word, boring.  Sill completely avoids the issue by making her spirituality intimately personal.  Instead of taking the stance of a saint and talking about how she’s been saved, she sings from the perspective of a lost soul desperately seeking redemption.  If contemporary “Christian rock” would take a page from Sill, then I could stop avoiding it like a plague.

So, basically, Judee Sill is a mixture of things I love (country rock, singer-songwriters) and don’t love so much (classical music, Christian rock), but it blends them together into something that is far more than the sum of its parts.  You owe it to yourself to check out this record at least once. God bless Judee Sill. God bless Asylum Records, and God bless you.  Good night and be careful on the trails.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Pappa Kerns permalink
    February 24, 2011 9:04 pm

    Nice Mic-O-Say / Camp Geiger reference


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