Dreams Come True (hi – i love you right heartily here – new songs)
e-appraisals of “lost” recordings by overlooked artists routinely evoke the “ahead of their time” genius narrative and, on an infrequent basis, the conceit may apply. Here, to the music’s credit and listener’s benefit, it does not. Sill was very much of her time (and I refuse to use the “G” word, which serves only to incite reverence but describes very little of the music or the musician themselves). While the industry sustains itself increasingly on the packaging and re-packaging of proven quick-sale Wal-Mart music it trammels over the larger part of the musical conversation and some years down the road we’re left with a very distorted chart-centric view of the musical past, populated by over-compartmentalized caricatures. In light of this, I find every re-issue, every alert announcing some forgotten also-ran talent to be like adding additional rooms onto the house I plan to retire to. You may not love all rooms equally, but even the swankest one-room loft can prove oppressive over time (not that I would know on either count).
Dreams Come True is presumably the final installation in a series of re-releases of Sill’s material by the small San Francisco label “4 Men With Beards/Water Records” (limited edition releases have also been collected by Rhino Handmade)—a gorgeously packaged 2 disc set including the complete re-mixed, mastered material from the unfinished recordings that would have been the follow-up to 1973’s critically-enjoyed, commercially passed-over Heart Food. The second disc is reserved for unreleased home recordings and rarities (of varying quality and of more interest to the collector and fan than the uninitiated listener) and a 12 minute, five song live video clip including a delicately restored video recording of a 1973 University of Southern California performance (which I could not get to play on my laptop).
After building a reputation as a songwriter and performer (partly based on the penning of a couple of mid-level hits for The Turtles) Judee Sill was among the first artists (along with Joni Mitchell and Carole King) signed to David Geffen's then newly formed Asylum label. Sill released two under-selling records (1971's Judee Sill and 1973's Heart Food), allegedly under-promoted by David Geffen after Sill publicly insulted Geffen’s pink shoes (another less flattering version has her directly gay-bashing Geffen onstage across Europe). Following a car accident and a series of excruciating semi-failed back surgeries, Sill began work on the third record at Michael Nesmith’s studio (these sessions) and, shortly after Thanksgiving, died of a drug overdose at age 35.
Like other dead people who chance to express themselves in song, Sill’s myth grows grand and tall in print; but few other such passed over passed-on artists leave a legacy of so much ready-made mythical material for friends and biographers to sculpt. Based on the testaments of her friends, lovers and peers, Sill was the most colorful sort of Aquarian casualty, a black-powder flash of un-tempered, aggressive energy, frightening multi-tentacled talent and sexuality of the sort you had to either oppose or allow to enwrap you completely. Out of a background of alleged sexual abuse, poverty, teenage institutionalization, felony (a 16 year-old arrest for armed robbery), and homelessness, Sill remade herself for a brief time into a Laurel Canyon local legend as a prodigious, Bach-influenced songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with the most seductive of Goddess complexes. This record’s lovingly packaged accompanying 72-page oral history memorializes Sill in a doomed embroidery populated with the ghosts of Rosicrucian fellowships and other mystical mongrelisms, the musical revelations of Sister Rosetta Tharp, Bach and Mahler, Pythagorean intervallic worship, oil-money trust funds, seaside peyote picnics, a muscular hallucinogenic appetite, exotic reptile importing siblings, indiscrete bisexual trysting, near-fatal auto accidents with Danny Kaye, Madame Blavatsky, violent relationships, an electronic bypass apparatus designed to bridge Judee’s ill-healed broken spine, Geffen’s pink shoes, long-term heroin addiction, Bill Plummer’s Cosmic Brotherhood, and a parakeet named Céline.
If the dark, absurdly storied (and somewhat debated) mythology painted in “Journal” (the essays and interviews that come with Dreams Come True) serves to compel listeners to attend to Sill’s music, let it all stand un-challenged.
Sill’s three released full-length records are remarkable for their assured evenness, their ability to truly and successfully assimilate Bach studies into the languid, swinging faux-country pastoralisms of her scene. Disc One’s complete recordings and studio demos for the Dreams Come True session are uniformly, subtly strong. There is no weak track. Within an era and stylistic context given to weighty confessional song cycles dour with nothing more than lost love, Dreams Come True maintains an inexplicable (but not vapid) brightness during a period of near-constant physical pain and exhaustion related to her spinal injuries and the psychic skid mark narcotic-wear from her many years of drug abuse. Every song feels natural and unforced, every song remains structurally unpredictable.
Whether or not the unfinished tracks may have benefited from the arrangements present on her other two records, the warm, round openness of the four-piece recordings as they stand now serves the collection well and the complete corpus of her work even better. Bill Plummer’s original 16-track session tapes were restored lovingly by mastering engineer Gary Hobish and mixed by “self-professed Judee Sill fanatic” Jim O'Rourke (dusting for prints should reveal Sill’s marks all over O’Rourke’s “Insignificance” and his “Loose Fur” collaboration with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy). On no other recording is the baroque influence on this light jazz-infused acoustic pop more relevant and less heavy-handed. Sill’s under-inflected subtle vocal twang and southern church choir backups are left to shine as she brightly admits “Now I’m over, I turned me in.”
Reviewed by: William S. Fields
Reviewed on: 2005-06-09