If Judee Sill’s story isn’t fodder for a Lifetime TV movie, then nothing is: the early deaths of her father and brother; an alcoholic mother remarried to an evil stepdad; ensuing drugs, crime, reform school, prison, and prostitution; redemption through folk music; discovery by Graham Nash; two ’70s albums on David Geffen’s Asylum label; then back into dope, obscurity, and death from an overdose. Decades later: posthumous accolades.
Now, after Sill’s two official albums have been given the deluxe treatment by Rhino, Water gathers her live solo sessions for the BBC. Stripped down to acoustic guitar and piano, Sill loses none of the intricacy or intimacy of her studio recordings. Balancing committed spirituality with street-smart vulnerability, these crafted songs — classically ornate but R&B real — are delivered by a voice that has no right to be as unvarnished as it is. Because the CD collects recordings from three different BBC appearances, some songs — including her signature “Jesus Was a Cross Maker,” “Down Where the Valleys Are Low,” and “The Kiss” — turn up two or three times. Probably not the place to start a Judee Sill collection, but a welcome addendum.