It's wonderful to finally have an official release of the late Judee Sill
's recordings done for the BBC during 1972 and 1973. They have been bootlegged for years, passed from person to person among the -- then few -- faithful on ragged umpteenth-generation cassettes. When Rhino's Handmade imprint officially released her two albums with supplemental material, the way was created for the rest of her recorded output to see the light of day in an organized fashion. In 2005, San Francisco's Water Records got out her long unreleased third album in a deluxe package, and they have also handsomely put together these tapes in one place. First and foremost, the disclaimer: there is repetition here, especially the material from her debut album. And for whatever reason, producers Filippo Salvadori
and Carlton P. Sandercock
have broken up the actual concert sessions, interweaving them for what one presumes are aesthetic reasons. In other words, the songs recorded for the BBC's In Concert
playing solo on guitar and piano) are interspersed with one cut from its program In Session
with Bob Harris
recorded two weeks later. The other cuts from the Harris
sessions are intercut with another In Concert
program recorded a year later. It doesn't matter musically, but it may to those rather serious archivists who prefer to listen to things chronologically.
The set flows beautifully. The earlier version of "Enchanted Sky Machines" (it's here twice, as are "Jesus Was a Cross Maker" and "The Kiss," while "Down Where the Valleys Are Low" appears three times), with its gospel piano riffing, is utterly moving and delightful. Likewise, Sill
's guitar playing is far more sophisticated than is displayed on her studio offerings (check the 1973 version of "There Is a Rugged Road"). Subsequently, "The Kiss," freshly written a bit before these concerts, makes its first recorded appearances here, before Heart Food
was recorded. The vocal performances from 1973 tend not to be as strong -- they are wispier, less authoritative, more tentative. But, as Sill
comments in one introduction, she says she has a sore throat, which may be the reason. But in 1973, the sheer excitement of her first two appearances wasn't missing -- which does not mean the songs suffer; they are just more melancholy, which adds different twists to their meanings, especially on the final version of "The Kiss." It's heartbreaking. There is also a track here that includes a nearly five-minute interview with Harris
, which does add to rather than subtract from the authority of this set of music. This is about all of it now; there is very little left to issue as the story bleeds into pop history. Hopefully, the musical shelf that now exists will add weight and heft to the true and visionary contribution that Judee Sill
brought to the entire Laurel Canyon scene of the early '70s.