The first person signed to David Geffen’s Asylum Records in 1971 wasn’t Jackson Browne or Joni Mitchell, but the waifish-looking intellectual Judee Sill, who hid a life of armed robberies and needle drugs behind her innocent bespectacled eyes. Her two albums were ignored by most, and she died of an overdose in 1979. The Sill film documentary Soldier of the Heart is due later this year, and Storysound Records has just released Down Where the Valleys Are Low, produced and engineered by Lorenzo Wolff, to educate the uninitiated.
Wolff gathered powerful singers like Mary-Elaine Jenkins and Emily Holden to bring new life to Sill standards like “Jesus Was a Cross-Maker” and “The Kiss.” Sill was an orchestrated storyteller like Laura Nyro, not an acoustic folkie, and Wolff’s rotating group of session musicians are just the type to do her justice. But as the reissues of Sill’s albums fetch astronomical prices, it’s good to remember she wouldn’t appreciate being the object of cult adoration.
Also New & Noteworthy
Lana Del Rey, Chemtrails Over the Country Club (Polydor) – After two studio albums of grandiose apocalypse visions, along with a release of doom-laden poetry, Del Rey needed to aim for vulnerability to make the new album work. Despite accusations of cultural appropriation, she’s achieved what she needed in the wistful and personal Chemtrails. Those who find it meandering should consider the way the opening track “White Dress” resembles Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work,” or study the way Del Rey covers Joni Mitchell’s “For Free.” If this is a train wreck or death trip, Del Rey handles it with grace.
David Olney and Anana Kaye, Whispers and Sighs (Schoolkids Records) – Olney, a songwriter/collaborator with Steve Earle and Linda Ronstadt, was playing the 30A Songwriter Festival in Florida in January 2020 when he died onstage of an apparent heart attack. He had been working with Anana Kaye and Irakli Gabriel from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, and the trio had recorded 13 tracks that are far from posthumous leftovers. His opener “My Favorite Goodbye,” and songs with Kaye’s vocals like “Thank You Note” and “My Last Dream of You” are among the most powerful tracks of the year.