Lorenzo Wolff – Down Where the Valleys Are Low – A Judee Sill Tribute Album
While this isn’t showcased as I’d present a tribute to the late singer Judee Sill (d. 1979) I admit the reimagining of 7 choice songs may be a good idea.
The title cut sung by Mary-Elaine Jenkins leans heavily on electronics. But can be forgiven since this is probably updated for younger ears rather than recapture older ones. The older ears won’t deviate from the originals.
“The Pearl,” is produced proficiently with the deep gospel-like vocals of Bartees Strange. The band is tight with the creeping Simon Kafka lead guitar & pounding Jeremy Gustin drums. The song may be the sole jewel here.
Down Where the Valleys Are Low – A Judee Sill Tribute Album (StorySound Records-Drops March 12) was produced by upstate NY multi-instrumentalist Lorenzo Wolff. “Crayon Angels,” is stripped but still has electronics.
For me – a Judee Sill devotee – this doesn’t come across with authenticity. While the performance is produced with skill & good sound it’s at a sacrifice of feeling, soul & meaning. What’s sad is that vocalist Grace McLean could’ve sung this song acoustically, & excellently. Instead, it’s a jumble of steel wool instead of lace. Suspicion? Maybe this was intended.
“The Kiss,” a Judee Sill classic & probably one of the most beautiful songs ever written shouldn’t be messed with. Singer Emily Holden does this proud. Absolutely stunning, beautiful, respectful & tear-inspiring. Yes, cold electronics abound, but Emily’s voice rises above it all. Judee’s was solely grand piano & vocal poignancy. Emily grasps it, & nearly overshadows the distracting instrumentation.
Emily’s voice is as beautiful as Judee’s was. This song was meant to derive its power from an acoustic setting to allow the words to flourish. Emily does it. Upstages everything with her marvelous tone. Judee Sill somewhere is smiling…sarcastically.
Another classic is “Jesus Was a Crossmaker.” While Judee’s is definitive, some prefer The Hollies cover, Michael Cerveris sings it faithfully. However, the loud electronics obscures the showcase. It doesn’t adhere to the lyrical meaning. It’s focused on bombastic showboating & disregards the defining thrust. Cerveris is fine but he’s surrounded by molasses of musical gimmicks.
Osei Essed’s “There’s a Rugged Road,” is better arranged & lively. The gospel choir is a nice touch. The musicianship is not poor, but it lacks soul. The approach basically reminds me of Tony Carey & Planet P trying to cover Joni Mitchell.
Lorenzo stated — his intent was to separate the mythology from the woman (Judee Sill). Wolff added that he wanted to push certain elements to the forefront & “I’d like to picture Judee listening to this album & telling me to fuck off.”
Unfortunately, the majority of her admirers & fans will probably say just that. The CD art is a dead giveaway that sincerity was not one of the ingredients.