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Judee Sill was a true original. A singer-songwriter with a wealth of influences and a fascination with religion, she referred to her work as ”country-cult-baroque.” She was the first artist signed to David Geffen’s Asylum label, and, along with Joni Mitchell and Carole King, exemplified the breezy ”Laurel Canyon Sound” of the early ’70s. Sill scored moderate hits with Lady-O (originally written for the Turtles) and Jesus Was A Cross Maker and released two albums – 1971’s Judee Sill and 1973’s Heart Food – before suffering chronic pain and eventually dying of a drug overdose at age 35.
Sill grew up in Oakland, California, and began playing piano at age three. A troubled family life and brushes with the law landed her in reform school, where, as church organist, she developed the gospel style that would characterize her future recordings. After a stint in college and three down-and-out years of addiction, she cleaned up and began work on her dream of becoming a songwriter. She spent a short time penning songs for the Turtles’ production company before signing her own deal with Asylum.
Pleased with the creative direction of Judee Sill, the singer-songwriter again teamed with engineer/producer Henry Lewy (Joni Mitchell, Neil Young) for her follow-up. On Heart Food, Sill’s voice is stronger and Lewy’s production more resonant. Built around the singer’s guitar or piano, the songs are arranged with similar ambition. Rather than using an outside arranger for the strings (as she did on her previous album), Sill did all of the work herself. Her lack of formal training and the immense amount of orchestral overdubs certainly would have made such an outing a hardship for anyone. But the results are outstanding, with echoes of Bach supporting the stellar early ’70s Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter melodies. The supporting cast of top L.A. studio musicians solidifies Sill’s unique brand of folk-flavored pop, which moves from introspective meanderings to loping rock, often within a single song.