Tuesday, 30 September 2014

"Abracadabra: The Asylum Years" by JUDEE SILL (2006 Rhino 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Like A Wind Song…" 

With her so uncool Granny glasses, plain Jane straight hair and hard-to-pigeonhole melodies - JUDEE SILL's duo of Asylum Label LPs have gathered a cult-status that refuses to go away. Yet as someone who worked in a busy secondhand record shop in London's West End for near twenty years - I can remember in the late Eighties and Nineties when you couldn't give "Judee Sill" or "Heart Food" away. Much like Emitt Rhodes on Probe or Eric Andersen on Capitol (see reviews for both) - they'd sit in the racks in their fetching gatefold sleeves unloved and unwanted. And clearly from this gorgeous 2CD retrospective - that was something of a collective mistake. It's not all genius by any means - but when she hits that mark - her music is truly beautiful. So here are the cross makers and the soldiers of the heart...

UK released June 2006 - "Abracadabra: The Asylum Years" by JUDEE SILL on Rhino/Asylum 8122 79534 2 (Barcode 081227953423) is a 2CD Set of Remasters and breaks down as follows...

Disc 1 (77:26 minutes):
1. Crayon Angels
2. The Phantom Cowboy
3. The Archetypal Man
4. The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown
5. Lady-O
6. Jesus Was A Cross Maker
7. Ridge Rider
8. My Man On Love
9. Lopin' Along Thru The Cosmos
10. Enchanted Sky Machines
11. Abracadabra
Tracks 1 to 11 are her debut album "Judee Sill" - released September 1971 in the USA on Asylum SD-5050 and May 1972 in the UK on Asylum SYLA 8751

12. The Pearl (Original Version)
13. The Phoenix (Original Version)
Tracks 12 and 13 were removed from the album to make room for the late inclusion of "Jesus Was A Cross Maker" and subsequently re-recorded for "Heart Food"

14. Ridge Rider (Alternate Version)
15. My Man On Love (Alternate Version)
14 and 15 are Previously Unreleased outtakes from the "Judee Sill" sessions

16. Intro/The Vigilante
17. Lady-O
18. Enchanted Sky Machines
19. The Archetypical Man
20. Crayon Angels
21. The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown
22. Jesus Was A Cross Maker
Tracks 16 to 22 were recorded 'Live In Boston Music Hall', 3 October 1971
Tracks 12 to 22 were first issued on the Rhino Handmade CD Edition of "Judee Sill" on RHM2 7836 in 2003

Disc 2 (77:56 minutes):
1. There's A Rugged Road
2. The Kiss
3. The Pearl
4. Down Where The Valleys Are Low
5. The Vigilante
6. Soldier Of The Heart
7. The Phoenix
8. When The Bridegroom Comes
9. The Donor
10. (No Title)
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Heart Food" - released March 1973 in the USA on Asylum SD 5063 and April 1973 in the UK on Asylum SYL 9006

11. The Desperado (outtake from the "Heart Food" sessions)

12. The Kiss
13. Down Where The Valleys Are Low
14. The Donor
15. Soldier Of The Heart
16. The Phoenix
17. The Vigilante
18. The Pearl
19. There's A Rugged Road
Tracks 12 to 19 are Solo Demos for the "Heart Food" album

20. The Donor (Alternate Mix) - Previously Unreleased
Tracks 10 to18 first issued on the Rhino Handmade CD Edition of "Heart Food" on RHM2 7802 in 2003

With its card slipcase, a 20-page sepia-tinted booklet and CD labels that reflect the original Asylum 'door in the sky' logo - this feels like a classy release - and it is. First up is the truly beautiful remastering by long-standing Rhino stalwarts DAN HERSCH and DAVE SCHULTZ. Co-ordinator ANDY ZAC explains in the liner notes that the first generation Stereo master tapes had inherent glitches and distorted her voice. Hidden by vinyl to some degree -the CD is less forgiving - but given that - the job they've done is fabulous - as faithful and as clear as the music is ever going to be. On quieter songs like the piano-driven "When The Bridegroom Comes" - their deftness of touch really lifts the song.

Her two minor hits are here - covers of The Turtles "Lady-O" and The Hollies "Jesus Was A Cross Maker" - but her own "There's A Rugged Road" impresses more (Shawn Colvin does a gorgeous version of it on her "Cover Girl" CD from 1994). "My Man On Love" has her signature magic - as lovely a melody as you've ever heard. It was put on the flipside of "Sky Enchanted Machines" when it got released in September 1972 in the UK as a 7" single (Asylum AYM 509). "The Archetypal Man" is witty and perceptive too and I love the 'Alternate Version' of "Ridge Rider" which is simplified and better for it.

But if I were to single out three masterpieces - two would be on the hugely accomplished "Heart Food" album. First is probably everybody's favourite -  the moving and beautiful ache of "The Kiss" - wow! If you get the chance -check out The Old Grey Whistle Test footage of her doing this live with just a piano in 1973 (lyrics from it title this review). Second is the epic 9-minute hymn-like finisher "The Donor" which MICHELE KORT rightly gives paragraphs to in her wonderfully detailed and heartfelt liner notes. It goes off into staggering vocal tangents and pirouettes that predate Kate Bush - and with the combined male and female voices repeating a Kyrie Eleison refrain throughout (Lord Have Mercy) - its musical ambition is like a female Todd Rundgren on a roll. The complicated tympani and vibes arrangements alone must have taken months to get down. It's astonishing stuff.

But best of all is the set's prize - a previously unreleased outtake that I feel matches even "The Kiss". It's called "The Desperado" and should have finished the album instead of the non-titled Track 10 that is merely an Irish air instrumental that might have seemed like fun at the time - but now seems superfluous and badly misjudged. "The Desperado" would have brought the album full-circle - even into Joni Mitchell territory. It's beautifully produced - a lovely acoustic melody - what a find.

Judee Sill won't be for everyone for sure and some may wonder what all the fuss is about - but I've been moved to tears many times by the beauty and talent available on this gorgeous 2CD release.

Aged only 35 - she died at home 23 November 1979 from a drug overdose - with her loss barely reported anywhere. Rest with the angels you beautiful lady...

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