As Kevin Tihista explains in Judo's liner notes, Judo contains songs that were originally intended for a planned double-CD release called "Back to Budapest." This was before Atlantic Records signed Tihista to their Division One imprint in the U.S. and issued some of those tracks on his debut, Don't Breathe a Word, which was re-released by Parasol in September 2001. By then, Tihista was using the name Kevin Tihista's Red Terror (the nickname, incidentally, for a chestnut-colored horseracing legend who died tragically before fulfilling everyone's expectations). Unfortunately for Tihista, Division One's doors were shut two months later, and he was dropped from the Atlantic roster. The Champaign, IL-based Parasol rescued his debut for reissue, and six months later the remaining tracks set aside for that double CD they'd originally planned were issued separately, so everything seems to have worked out almost the way it was planned. Like nearly all of his solo recordings, Judo was almost entirely assembled from the low-budget recordings Tihista made in his Albany Park neighbor Ellis Clark's basement studio (where Clark had produced the Chamber Strings' first album). Overall, Judo sounds like a continuation of the warm Baroque pop of Don't Breathe a Word, with its hushed, winsome vocals and finely crafted use of acoustic and electric guitars, strings, horns, vibes, slide guitars, Hammond B3, grand piano, and even an MTV Music Generator 2 programmer. There are occasional "commercial" elements as well, like the synth arrangement which brings "One More Day" to a close. Tihista's diaphanous melodies -- take "Second Look" and "You're Making Other Plans," for example -- abound with layer upon layer of sound, all anchored by happy, percolating '60s beats. "You Don't Have to Be Sorry" has a nice George Harrison-esque slide guitar, and "Love Plays a Dirty Game" and "Hymn" benefit from wistful, bouncy Beach Boys-style arrangements with trumpets and double-tracked harmony vocals. Tihista often reminds critics of Elliott Smith because he has a similar penchant for lilting, Beatlesque harmonies, mellifluous phrasing, and self-effacing first-person laments about falling in and out of love. The only area in which Tihista falters -- when compared with someone like Smith -- is that his songs lack an emotional gravitas and too often rely on the kind of cloying clichés you're likely to hear composed in high school freshman poetry courses.
AllMusic Review by Bryan Thomas