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Ghost Canyon

Title - 'Down Where The Valleys Are Low'
Artist - Lorenzo Wolff

For those unaware, Producer and multi-instrumentalist Lorenzo Wolff first encountered the beguiling music of Judee Sill back in 2010 on a playlist created by tour-mate Henry Wolfe during one of those long, typically dull, drives between gigs.

He still recalls how the late, much lamented singer/songwriter’s music stood out “like a briar patch in a line of palm trees.”

Sill’s music stuck with Wolff over the years and yet he still marvels at how her work evoked “a strange, somewhat untrustworthy landscape of shadow figures.”

His fascination with Sill’s music led him, in 2019, to create a Sills tribute project, Down Where the Valleys Are Low: Another Otherworld for Judee Sill (set for release from StorySound Records on March 12th, 2021), in which seven songs are presented in bold interpretations of the original versions.

Wolff, who also is a big fan of artist Pieter Bruegel’s detailed, maximalist style, believes Sill’s vibrant, dramatic lyrical and musical language — which he describes as “both psychedelic and medieval, like an illuminated manuscript annotated in Day-Glo” — could not only support a more robust, aggressive sonic palette but actually asks for it.

1. 'Down Where the Valleys Are Low' [feat. Mary-Elaine Jenkins]
2. 'The Pearl' [Bartees Strange]
3. 'Crayon Angels' [Grace McLean]
4. 'The Kiss' [Emily Holden]
5. 'Jesus Was a Cross Maker' [Michael Cerveris]
6. 'There’s a Rugged Road' [Osei Essed]
7. 'The Phoenix' [Bobby Hawk and Kate Ferber]

Reinterpreting these seven songs by the legendary singer/songwriter, and assisted by a circle of singers and musicians associated with his East Williamsburg studio, Wolff replaces the period LA soft rock, semi-classical, ethereal sounds of Sill’s original recordings with what he calls “dirtier, more earthbound elements.”

Opening with the earthy and low brow, Americana troubadour heartbeat of the title track 'Down Where the Valleys Are Low,' that's backed by the beautifully soulful 'The Pearl,' and then the raw jangly guitar and fuzzy mic resonance of 'Crayon Angels' is brought forth.

Next up is the ethereal exaltation of 'The Kiss' which is in turn followed by the soulful, achingly earnest 'Jesus Was a Cross Maker,' the lonesome and jagged electro vibe of 'There’s a Rugged Road,' with this artistically insightful album coming to a close on the Americana storytelling twang of 'The Phoenix.'

Judee Sill’s eponymous 1972 debut was the first released on David Geffen’s Asylum Records. She was championed early on by J.D. Souther and Graham Nash.

She cited, as her major influences, Pythagoras, Bach, and Ray Charles, and her stated ambition was to “become the world’s greatest songwriter.”

A second album followed in 1973, but she fell out of favor with Geffen, was dropped from the label, drifted into obscurity, and died at 35 from a drug overdose.

Judee Sill never really fit in to the hip SoCal music scene. She came up hard, suffered abuse from her mother and stepfather, fell in with petty criminals, robbed liquor stores and gas stations, was arrested and sent to a reformatory, became a junkie and prostituted herself to support her habit.

But she also developed her own religious philosophy and believed that, as her song goes, "Down where the valleys are low/There’s a refuge so high,” and that, as she once said, “Out of the mud a lotus grows.”

That lotus was her music - she composed, arranged, played, and sang with a celestial elegance.

Today, Judee Sill remains a name that terms like “little-known” and “overlooked” are typically attached to, but those who know her music hold an intense adulation for her.

XTC co-founder Andy Partridge described her songs as being “like little tiny symphonies with beautiful chord changes I’d never heard anyone use.”

Singer/songwriter Shawn Colvin has compared Sill to Brian Wilson, and proclaimed, “she didn’t sound like anybody else … streetwise and yet … religious.”

Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein, another obsessed fan, wonderfully summarized Sill’s multi-layered music when she wrote that “her songs are psychological labyrinths, twisting and searching; they are religious and mythical explorations that touch on pain, wonder, and joy. The happy/sad quality is both elating and heartbreaking.”

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