Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ROW: Judee Sill (Rhino Handmade)

Shamefully late to the Sill party, I still find myself completely smitten by her otherworldly charms. The signifier singular is perfect in qualifying her aural allure as a singer-songwriter who transcends time with her cosmic and religious preoccupations. Her 1971 debut has the aura of instant classic about it from the stage setting “Crayon Angels” onward to the enigmatic album-capstone “Abracadabra”. Sill’s lilting voice has a disarming simplicity, occasionally inflected with a slight warble and a matter-of-fact delivery even when she’s plumbing dark psychological depths. Joni Mitchell is an obvious analogue, but I also hear Sill’s vocal influence in another unexpected source, Liz Phair. Her acoustic guitar picking and gospel-grounded piano weave through a series of baroque folk arrangements that incorporate sweeping strings and coloratura horns. Seven live cuts from a well-recorded Boston gig the same year offer insight into song origins. “Enchanted Sky Machines” has its roots in Sill’s stint at the church organist in reform school while “Jesus was a Cross Maker” details her recovery from a scorched earth relationship through the titular realization that everyone carries with them the possibility for redemption. Sorrowful that it’s taken me so long to get hip to Sill, I’m now seeking all I can by her. Even sadder, is the sobering cognizance that her catalog is so slim.

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