By Shack Khoza
Spiritual, but shunned soft rock are the words to describe this unusual album titled, Down Where the Valleys are Low; Another Otherworld for Judee Sill, produced by Lorenzo Wolff.
This album is dedicated to listeners who have an appreciation or interest in posthumous music that was neglected by deceased singers and songwriters. Originally written by Judee Sill, this album is a highly-regarded mixtape that Wolff created by using his knowledge of audio engineering to arranged seven of Sill’s songs.
“Who is Lorenzo Wolff?” the listener may ask. He is a talented producer, engineer, musician and composer who specializes in mixing songs and audio for the audience’s pleasure.
He is very skilled at arranging music and encourages freelance audio engineers to come work in his studio for music production. Both his talents and his skills allow him to bend and break the rules that guitar players seem to follow.
But why did he choose to make an album dedicated to Judee Sill? In her short lifetime, Sill was a struggling guitarist who sang about her drug abuse, failing relationships and time spent in jail. All of her mistakes inspired her to write music and explain the motives of her incomplete albums.
Even though Sill emerged from a history of drug usage and sexual interactions, her devotion to Christianity and belief in spiritual healing convinced her that salvation and acceptance would not make her fear death.
Examples include the song “Jesus was a Cross Maker,” written after Sill read a Christian-themed novel and found forgiveness for a toxic ex-boyfriend. “The Pearl” was a story of how she tried to escape drug addiction. Wolff was interested in Sill’s internal struggle and completed the album that further illustrated the battles of her gods and demons.
Wolff finds abandoned songs and challenging rhythms that are complicated for a vast audience to pay attention to and rearranges them. Before he arranged the music, Wolff studied Sill’s disappointing history and disassembled the lyrics to express the kind of emotions Sill unclearly described in her voice and acoustic guitar. From then on, Wolff transformed several folk-like, untuned guitar songs into digitalized modern rock.
The best and purest song is “The Kiss.” In a way, the entire track sounds like a worship ceremony in a church as it possesses a hallowed and religious tone that makes anyone want to raise their hands in praise. The lyrics themselves read like a proverb from the Bible, so it makes sense that the song should sound like a hymn or holy chant.
When the music opens, there is an introduction of brass instruments that represent the holy trumpets of heaven, welcomed by Emily Holden’s vocals that resemble an angel ascending into heaven.
Another interesting question is why does her music suddenly hold more value now than it did three decades ago?
In the 1970s, female acoustic guitar players were not popular. They were stereotyped as stowaways or hitchhikers that toured with heavy baggage, drugs in their pockets and a bevy of sad tales. Those details physically described Sill; however, after she passed away, her music was and is loved and appreciated more.
Posthumous music holds a moral lesson of taking people for granted. The statement that describes this is, “I didn’t realize I have it until I lost it.”
When musicians, unfortunately, pass away, listeners feel guilty that they did not take the opportunity to listen to the musician’s albums, go to their live concerts or follow them on social media. The deceased musician’s reputation is exponentially increased and their death encourages people to play their music, even if it is not a great album.
Wolff felt guilty about Sill not being as popular as she could’ve been in the 1970s. Although her music was quite unmarketable, he believes that her potential for songwriting and live guitar performances would have been her gateway to stardom.
That is why, with much effort, he willingly decided to complete her album himself and distribute it across music platforms while her legacy continues to be honored.
May Judee Sills rest in peace as Down Where the Valleys are Low; Another Otherworld for Judee Sill and her other music is carefully looked after by Lorenzo Wolff. This intelligent man has resurrected lyrics that bring interest for listeners who want to hear a story about internal struggles and for future audio engineers to take lessons arranging music.
Featured image via Down Where the Valleys Are Low; Another Otherworld for Judee Sill album cover.