Lost Angel: The Genius of Judee Sill (Pat Padua, 4/17/24, Spectrum Culture)

With her sordid life and angelic voice, Sill is a fantastic subject, and as suits a figure who, with the evidence of her lyrics and her life, regularly conversed with angels and demons both, her muse was to some degree developed in juvenile court. She played church organ while she was in reform school, and that developed her taste for Bach which informed her songwriting and orchestral imagination. Among the interviews with peers like David Crosby and Jackson Browne, critic Tim Page plays something like the role Jonathan Richman played in Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground. He joyfully demonstrates the musicality behind his favorite track, “The Lamb Ran Away with the Crown,” and Page is mystified over why it wasn’t a huge hit. Even if you’re new to her music, you will be too.

Yet as Crosby notes, Sill had a reputation for being “fierce”; she knew what she wanted in the studio and, in fact, conducted her own orchestrations. Linda Ronstadt explains that the only other musician during that era with similar musical chops was Brian Wilson. In a marriage of the scared and the profane, Sill informed her folk music with classical structure and beer-barrel boogie, with lyrics that were searching and religious. This outlaw was repentant; she reveled in her transgressions but was just as fervent about the possibility of redemption. She battled demons as deeply as she embraced them and considered it more courageous to fight them. She could play like the devil, and as Natalie Mering, aka Weyes Blood, candidly points out, Sill was not conventionally attractive, but her music seemed to come out of some gorgeous fount.