Judee Sill, we hardly knew thee. How could you appear out of nowhere, create two albums of musical purity, then slip away leaving us wanting so much more? Though largely unrecognized during her recording career in the 70s, Sill has garnered notable fans throughout the past several decades such as Graham Nash, Jim O?Rourke, and XTC frontman Andy Partridge. ?Heart Food,? Sill?s second release, is her crowing achievement, an album that breaks through the barriers of the Laurel Canyon folk singer sound with soaring string and vocal arrangements inspired by J.S. Bach. Again we have San Francisco?s Water Records to thank for reissuing a lost classic.
?There?s a Rugged Road? starts the album with Sill examining the landscape laid out before her, the country lilt in her voice weary and lonesome. It perfectly introduces the songs that follow as a journey through rugged terrain toward something bright and holy in the far-off distance.
Echoing Andy Partridge?s statements in the liner notes the second track, ?The Kiss,? may be one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It slowly builds upon a subtly gorgeous piano melody, supporting Sill?s ascending vocal lines that finally burst and resound in the darkness like a shining white light. The metaphor she employs in this piece, the breath of God mixed with the sweet kiss of a lover, matches perfectly the song?s airy brilliance.
More upbeat songs, such as ?The Pearl? and the should-have-been top ten single ?Soldier of the Heart,? flesh out the middle of the album, showcasing Sill?s range. The rock band arrangement of ?Soldier of the Heart? gives a glimpse of Sill?s potential as a crossover artist, mixing guitar solos and a driving rhythm section with gospel-tinged background vocals.
The album closes with the gentle hymn ?When the Bridegroom Comes,? and the monastic 8-minute plus ?The Donor.? ?When the Bridegroom Comes? strips away all of the album?s orchestral arrangements leaving Sill and her piano alone. Here Sill?s words take center stage as she expresses her own desire for redemption, urging others to continue searching as well. The religious overtones of her lyrics never seem contrived. Rather she mixes her longing for spiritual fulfillment with her struggle to connect to other people. In these songs Sill recognizes the difficulty of love and the strain of finding peace in a continuously disappointing life. Driving the point home ?The Donor? resolves itself in a final repetition of ?kyrie eleison- Lord have mercy.?
This is melodic perfection, sweet, simple, almost effortless. Sill channels these songs through her lungs like holy breath. Sadly, Judee finally collapsed on the rugged road she traveled, dying of a heroine overdose in 1979. But what she left behind is a stunning example of a hope not yet lost. A musical ?Pilgrim?s Progress? examining the frailty and beautiful struggle of humanity, Heart Food is a feast for the ears and the soul. 10/10 -- Jamie Townsend (28 June, 2006)