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Despite garnering favourable reviews and even though the artist performed doggedly as an opening act for a number of established artists, Judee Sill's eponymous 1971 debut album sold poorly and failed to propel the Californian musician to stardom. Undeterred, she returned with 1973's 'Heart Food' backed by engineer Henry Lewy and a band of stellar musicians and vocalists for a record altogether livelier and more confident than her debut. 'Heart Food' is similar to its predecessor in that it features Sill's multi-tracked vocals prominently, and that guitar and piano are prevalent, but other than that it's a forward step. Sill's songs have a gospel purity to them at times, as on the solo piano piece "When the Bridegroom Comes," written with then-boyfriend David Bearden. The best of these hymnal songs is surely "The Kiss," a timeless and beautiful celebration of romantic union with painstaking orchestration. It has an eerie, ethereal quality, and is renowned as one of Sill's finest compositions. The arrangements and orchestrations, done by Sill herself, complement the songs and the music and if there were any doubts about her abilities she certainly proves herself an expert songwriter and visionary with this album. Listen out, for example, for the ebullient backing vocals on "Down Where the Valleys Are Low," her most gospel-inspired song replete with organ licks and vocalists evoking a gospel choir.
Elsewhere, the themes of the first album are recalled on "The Vigilante" and "The Pearl," although they're less fragile and more forthright. The opening "There's A Rugged Road" is possessing of a memorable melody and strong structure, which is the case with every song here. The delicacy of the first album is replaced by something beefier (the rollicking "Soldier of the Heart," which should have been a major hit, which rocks harder than Sill's previous pop attempt, the glorious "Jesus Was A Cross Maker") but the subtle intricacies remain: on the surface, this sounds simple and effortless, and that's testament to Sill's amazing abilities.
The album's defining moment, however, must be the epic "The Donor," which displays the majority of Sill's many talents. The first four minutes or so are devoted to choral chanting and haunting piano lines, and the song becomes a beautiful, grand choral requiem. The chorus of "Kyrie Eleison" is stunning, but the dynamics of the song make it more like a suite and one of the defining moments on any record by any singer-songwriter. It's hard to imagine anybody else even daring to attempt something as grand and opulent as this and having the audacity and skills to pull it off.
Jim O'Rourke (Sonic Youth) describes her music on the sleeve, 'take a listen to Judee Sill now, some 30 years after she was captured on two timeless masterpieces: Her overwhelming songs of love and loss, both earthly and divine; a voice which alone could melt all defenses and when in harmony, could create heaven, right here on earth.'
Andy says: Very similar sound but even better songs than on her debut. Includes "The Kiss", which is absolutely gorgeous and for some, her best ever composition. If you don't already know Judee Sill well you won't believe how amazing her music is!
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