Judee Sill: Judee Sill (1971)

Judee Sill remains one of the more tragically overlooked folk-rock legends; her two original albums failed to sell (a third remained unfinished until the demos were cleaned up and released decades later), and she died young of an overdose.  But her beautiful vocals, and hauntingly devout and mystical lyrics, make her music timeless and always worth evangelizing to others.

Her first, self-titled album fell somewhere between Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell, mostly finger-picked acoustic guitars, though with some piano-based songs and orchestral touches that put her more in early Elton John territory.  Sill's backstory is a sad one, with her Christian spirituality balanced out by a violent childhood and various run-ins with crime and drugs.  That tension can be seen somewhat in her lyrics, but for the most part the songs are uplifting and spiritually rich.

"Crayon Angels" kicks off the album as a stunning summation of purpose; ethereal vocals, an unadorned acoustic guitar joined by some light woodwinds, and religious imagery in the lyrics.  "Phantom Cowboy" continues in a similar vein, with a jauntier, Americana vibe.  Later you have album stand-out "Enchanted Sky Machines," a boppy, hopeful little piano- and brass-based piece.  Stripped-down love song "My Man On Love" has Sill harmonizing with herself to great effect.  But the whole album is angelic and simply lovely.

By any measure, she should have been a success -- her singer-songwriter stylings placed her firmly alongside other successful artists of the era, from CSNY to Mitchell and the rest of the Laurel Canyon crowd; she was the first artist signed by David Geffen's Asylum Records; the album's gorgeous "Lady-O" was covered by the Turtles.  But for some reason, neither this album nor its equally solid follow-up, 1973's Heart Food, sold well. If anything, I think the songs on the second album were even stronger, though the overproduction got in the way; I strongly recommend the Asylum Years compilation, which collects both albums as well as the (IMHO superior) acoustic versions of many of the songs.  (And the posthumous third album is also great, adding some more modern post-production touches to Sill's tunes.)

Here's an audio rip of "Enchanted Sky Machines":
Here's some live footage of Judee singing "The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown":
And while we're here, how about Fleet Foxes covering "Crayon Angels"?