There are few rock and roll stories as tragic and downright fucked up as that of Judee Sill. She fled home as a teen, having lost her brother and father in separate accidents and wound up on the streets, carrying out armed robberies to feed a heroin habit. She learned to play the church organ in a correction clinic, hit the big-time on Sunset Boulevard but following latter-day relative commercial failure, relapsed and died from “acute cocaine and codeine intoxication” in 1979.
Her work was hugely personal, with heavy religious overtones and although celebrated and influential, has been arguably overshadowed by peers like Joni Mitchell and Carole King. So whilst it’s pleasing to see illustrious names like Daniel Rossen (Grizzly Bear), Beth Orton, Bill Callahan (Smog) and Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy) turn up on this tribute, the hodgepodge selection lacks balance and coherence. With a little extra due dilligence, the compilation, tracklisting and artist selection could have been much more sharper.
Sill’s breakthrough song, Jesus Was A Cross Maker, sounds gloriously rejuvenated by the silver tongued Frida Hyvonen, whilst fellow Scandinavian Nicolai Dunger’s take on Soldier Of The Heart sounds overwrought and self-indulgent. Of the star turns, Orton’s rendition of the previously unreleased Reach for the Sky may well have met with Sill’s approval, as would Smog’s typically pensive For a Rainbow. Final Fantasy takes a reasonably successful idiosyncratic stab at The Donor but conversely, The Colossal Yes’ version of The Phoenix is barely listenable.
When songs are so intimately penned, they should be handled with reverence, and whilst this album will hopefully gain Sill worthy recognition, the choice of artist is clumsy. As tributes go, Crayon Angel could have been much more fitting than this.
Video: Judee Sill – Jesus Was a Cross Maker