Dusted Reviews

Judee Sill - Live in London: The BBC Recordings 1972-1973

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Judee Sill

Album: Live in London: The BBC Recordings 1972-1973

Label: Water

Review date: Jul. 24, 2007

Live in London is the latest in a series of re-releases from Judee Sill. It stands as the second volume of posthumous material to be released since ‘freak folk’ cast people’s attention back to similarly underappreciated folk singers like Karen Dalton and Linda Perhacs. This release — collecting her two live sessions for BBC Radio’s In Concert program and an appearance on In Session With Bob Harris — also marks the point at which the volume of her posthumous output matches that released during her life. As Michael Crumsho pointed out in his Dusted feature, “The Life And Times of Judee Sill,” the high drama of Sill’s life and early death only surfaces obliquely in the her serene, baroque compositions. The pull of ‘confessional’ music — strongly attached to Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake alike — is largely absent from these stripped-down but flawlessly executed songs, which recapitulate her best-known 'hits.'

There’s a fair amount of repetition here: Live in London contains three versions of Heart Food’s “The Kiss” and “Down Where The Valleys Are Low,” and two versions each of “Jesus Was A Cross Maker,” “Enchanted Sky Machines,” and “The Phoenix.” The differences in the recording quality or interpretation of these tracks — all of which were culled from the years 1972-73 — are minimal; their inclusion here would feel simply archival but for their undiminished power. An added bonus is that the disc features a slightly nervous Sill in a five-minute interview with Bob Harris. Juxtaposed with the mellifluous vocal lines of her songs, her speaking cadence comes off with a different proportion of whimsy-to-everyday — she comes off like a cross between Mother Goose and a pusher. The brief but pithy song introductions Sill delivers overshadow the polite interview, by turns establishing the context from which they emerged (the Sill-penned minor Turtles hit “Lady-O” was written while living with five others out of a Cadillac in the Hollywood flatlands) and drawing attention to ethereal-apocalyptic lyrics of songs like “Enchanted Sky Machines,” which tells of how sensitive, deserving people will be conveyed to the New Age by flying saucer.

Sill's music never found a middle ground between the metaphysically striving classicism of her arrangements (appropriately, she began her musical career as church organist in reform school) and the ad-hoc, vernacular immediacy that allied her with the contemporaneous singer-songwriter movement. But then again, as Live in London reminds us, Sill was never looking for a middle ground. Though much of her biography seems to retrace Christian dichotomies — addiction and salvation, the sins of the flesh and the transcendence of the spirit — her music operates synthetically, ambivalently. There’s none of the familiar agony. As she says in a humbly confident, clipped introduction to the then-newly-penned “The Kiss”: “I cant decide whether this is a romantic song or a holy song, but whatever it is, it stands for that brief communion of a kiss. Whether it’s actually a kiss, or whether it’s just a moment that’s locked in, you know. I don’t know. Uh, I hope you like it.”

Her songs’ appeal is precisely the ballast that comes from their acceptance of the often indistinct division between the holy and the human. Tracks like “The Lamb Ran Away with The Crown” come off like frayed, prodigal parables, fables that stray from their morals only to return, transformed by the weight of experience. Her voice is remarkable for the same reason, striking a balance between new age whimsy and sudden gravitas. Unaccompanied here, her voice fully commands our attention — it isn’t able to disappear, as she often does on her albums, into harmony with her famously meticulous arrangements. Her lighter-than-air vowels crash over gospel-inflected phrasing only to sublimate again, repeating in an extended, placid cyclical movement. Sill’s work is free of strife, but leaves plenty of space on the surface for even a casual observer to take in all the vicissitudes, the daily expediencies that gradually but inexorably change the meaning of the story. Live in London is no revelation, but as anyone who’s spent time with Sill’s music knows, that’s never been the point.

By Brandon Bussolini

Other Reviews of Judee Sill

Judee Sill / Heart Food

Read More

View all articles by Brandon Bussolini

Find out more about Water

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.