2009.10.09 - Crayon Angel: A Tribute To The Music of Judee Sill

Crayon Angel: A Tribute To The Music of Judee Sill

American Dust Records is proud to announce the 22nd September 2009 release of CRAYON ANGEL: A TRIBUTE TO THE MUSIC OF JUDEE SILL, featuring new recordings by BETH ORTON, Bill Callahan, Ron Sexsmith, Final Fantasy, Nicolai Dunger, Marisa Nadler & Black Hole Infinity, Colossal Yes (with members of Six Organs of Admittance and Comets on Fire), Meg Baird, Frida Hyvönen, Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles, P.G. Six, Trembling Blue Stars, Princeton, Bye Bye Blackbirds and Shalants.

Judee Sill was the first artist signed to David Geffen's Asylum Records and released two cherished cult LPs, 1971's Judee Sill and 1973's Heart Food, before vanishing from the music scene and eventually dying of a drug overdose in North Hollywood, California. Though forgotten for years, her music has enjoyed a period of rediscovery since her two studio albums were reissued on CD in 2005.

In addition to cover versions of songs from Judee's modest recorded output, Crayon Angel also features TWO NEW JUDEE SILL-PENNED SONGS, for which sheet music, but no known original recordings, survive. BETH ORTON brings to life the complex and lovely "Reach for the Sky," while BILL CALLAHAN records the epic slow-burn number "Like a Rainbow," a co-write with Judee's onetime boyfriend Lal Baum (great-grandson of Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum).

www.beth-orton.net spoke to Michael Saltzman from www.americandust.net about Judee Sill and the making of the album:

“We've been working on this compilation for nearly three years now. After I discovered Judee Sill's music in 2005 she fast became one of my all-time favorite songwriters. Her music is incredibly well composed. She once told an interviewer that the only people who really influenced her songwriting were Bach and Pythagoras. She loved Pythagoras' Music Of The Spheres, which relates the distances of the planets to musical intervals. In 2006 I wrote an article about Judee for Record Collector magazine, which gave me the opportunity to research her life in depth and meet some of her surviving friends.

“Judee's biography, as it turns out, is among the most incredible in all of pop music. The short version is this: As a child Judee lived in Oakland, California (my own hometown), where her father ran a rough dive bar. Judee would duck brawls and teach herself piano in the corner. After her father died, Judee's mother moved her and her brother down to Los Angeles and married an alcoholic, abusive, Academy Award-winning animator. Alienated at home, Judee fell in with a tough crowd and after high school began sticking up liquor stores as a means, she said, of expressing herself. She got busted and went to reform school, where she played church organ and learned her ‘gospel licks.’ When she got out she supported herself playing jazz bass in local bars and began taking LSD daily. She married another musician and together they fell into heroin addiction. Her habit reached $150 a day, and she would prostitute herself on the streets to keep it up. Eventually she was arrested for forging checks and sentenced to three months in prison. Inside, she kicked her habit and had a vision of becoming a great songwriter, of redirecting her inconsolable energies into music. Apparently it worked.

“When she got out of prison she began writing incredible songs. Her first success was when The Turtles recorded ‘Lady-O.’ Soon David Geffen took her under his wing as manager and made her  his very first artist on the singer-songwriter-centric Asylum Records. From here her rise was rapid. Though she never sold many records, her two studio albums Judee Sill (1971) and Heart Food (1973) were well-received by critics and she opened for big acts including Crosby & Nash, Three Dog Night and America. She even appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone.

“Unfortunately, after Heart Food's release she became bitter over her relationship with Geffen, believing he was paying more attention to Asylum's break-out stars Jackson Browne and the Eagles and not sufficiently promoting her new release. She made some nasty, ill-advised comments about him while on tour in England and word got back. Geffen pulled all promotion, including a giant Heart Food billboard that had just gone up on Sunset Boulevard. When Judee returned to LA she camped out on his lawn for days to apologize, but he wouldn't see her. The tragedy is that, around this same time, Judee was in a bad car accident (with Hollywood actor Danny Kaye) and because of her history of substance abuse was denied painkillers at the hospital. As a result, she returned to street heroin to dull the pain. Without a label behind her, she drifted back into debilitating addiction. She died several years later, in 1979, of a cocaine overdose.

“Writing about her life and getting to know her friends made me feel very close to Judee's music, and I was always happy to read when a young musician mentioned her as an influence. It seemed like after her studio albums were reissued on CD in 2005 more and more people were rediscovering her music - especially musicians, who perhaps most easily understood the majesty of her songwriting. We at American Dust thought there might be a great tribute album to be made. The capper was finding the sheet music for these two never-recorded songs, Reach For The Sky and For A Rainbow. If you agree that Judee was one of the best songwriters of the rock era then leaving these songs unrecorded is a real shame, and we were honored to be able to bring them into the world for the first time.

“As far as the selection of artists goes, we wanted to stick to contemporary musicians, rather than artists who may have been working in the same scene as Judee around the same time. (There might be another fine tribute to be made there, I suppose, with singers such as Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and JD Souther.) Our goal was to showcase Judee's music in a contemporary framework and demonstrate its continuing relevance and beauty. Because of the nature of her songs - gentle, introspective, composed - we tended towards more acoustic and folk-based musicians, with a few exceptions. We also tried to reach out to artists who we knew to be fans of Judee's music, or, excepting that, to be likely fans based on a shared musical style or temperament.

“Finding the right artists for the unreleased songs was the most important part of putting together this collection. We knew that we had more than a typical tribute album on our hands because of these songs, and we wanted to record them right. Personally, as an enormous fan of Judee's music, I felt responsible for finding artists who would do these songs justice. What's more, I knew ‘Reach For The Sky’ (Beth's song) to be perhaps our keynote track. I had taught myself to play it (crudely) on the guitar, and I could tell it was a wonderful and complex piece of work - a worthy addition to Judee's modest songbook. (The other new track, ‘For A Rainbow,’ I found to be more slight, almost a sketch of a song, but credit must go to Bill Callahan, whose recording brings the song to rich and full-bodied life.) We wanted a female singer for the track, since we already had Bill Callahan for the other new song, and compiled a shortlist of candidates, including Beth. When we heard she was interested we were very, very excited. Beth's voice is incredible, and she brings a thoughtful integrity to everything she records. She is also, at this point in her career, a longstanding artist of great renown and one worthy of the task of bringing ‘Reach For The Sky’ to life for the very first time.

“Judee was a classically trained musician and wrote out sheet music for all of her songs. We're lucky in this, as otherwise Reach For The Sky and For A Rainbow would have likely been lost forever. The sheet music for both were discovered recently among stored personal effects. As ‘For A Rainbow’ was a co-write, ‘Reach For The Sky’ remains the final solely Judee Sill-penned song to be recorded. Thank you, Beth, for your wonderful performance of this song!”


 The original sheet music - click on image
 for a larger version and the full lyrics


Released September 22.

Track list:
01 Ron Sexsmith: “Crayon Angel”
02 Beth Orton: “Reach for the Sky”
03 Daniel Rossen: “Waterfall”
04 Frida Hyvönen: “Jesus Was a Cross Maker”
05 Shalants: “Lopin Along Thru the Cosmos”
06 Final Fantasy: “The Donor”

07 Nicolai Dunger: “Soldier of the Heart”
08 Trembling Blue Stars: “Lady-O”
09 Colossal Yes: “The Phoenix”
10 Marissa Nadler & Black Hole Infinity: “The Kiss”
11 Princeton: “Down Where the Valleys Are Low”
12 The Bye Bye Blackbirds: “There’s a Rugged Road”
13 Meg Baird: “When the Bridegroom Comes”
14 Bill Callahan: “For a Rainbow”
15 P.G. Six: “Til Dreams Come True”

The CD is available to buy from the following outlets:






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