Dick’s Picks: Dick is loving this late ’60s cult folk/psych LP from the former Lovin’ Spoonful member and self-styled ‘Queen Of The Beatniks’ Judy Henske…..
Judy Henske and Jerry Yester – Who?
Although far from household names both Henske and Yester were to be found operating on the fringes of the ’60s counter-culture. Both were working on the West Coast folk scene, Henske as a solo singer and Yester was a member of proto-folkies the Modern Folk Quartet, the pair married in 1963. By ’65 Yester was adding piano to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Do You Believe In Magic’ (he would subsequently join the band), his production and arranging talents were also being put to good use with work following with his brother Jim’s band the Association, Tim Buckley and The Turtles.
Judy was no slouch either and by ’68 she had the same manager as a certain Frank Zappa, in fact it was good ‘ol Uncle Frank who suggested that she put some of the verse she had been writing to music – needless to say Yester was the natural choice for musical cohort, however, what gives this record a special twist is that Yester was fresh from recording Lovin’ Spoonful’s Zal Yanovsky’s debut solo album, a long player choc-full of experimental sound effects and lashings of those new-fangled synthesiser things……
As you might expect, a late ’60s West Coast long player with one foot in the Zappa camp was never going to be a straight forward listen – in fact, the album plays almost like a compilation LP, with all manner of musical twists and turns, taking in all-out rockers, fey acid folk whimsy, sunshine-pop-sike, Scottish folk and beyond…
Album opener is a case in point, an (almost) straight-up guitar driven rocker with Henske giving it some full-blown rock god vocalising; Janis Joplin from a parallel universe or perhaps the sister Captain Beefheart didn’t know he had?
However, don’t think you’re in for another nine songs of Jopin-esque West Coast shenanigans, the wonderful ‘Lullaby’ showcases just how original Henske and Yester’s take on music could be; the ever-so-slightly atonal music-box effects played throughout are actually the work of the wonderfully titled Marxophone, not a musical instrument that’s trying to raise a people’s army and seize control of the state, but rather a ‘fretless zither’, which actually plays two notes an octave apart (like a 12-string guitar), giving an eerie, other-worldy quality – factor in Henske’s dolorous vocals and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.
Before we go a special mention must be made for the title track ‘Farewell Aldebaran’. Four minutes of spaced out, electronically processed (ring modulator?) vocals with a moog synth for company before rounding off with a horn section?!!?? Truly unhinged and definitely the winner of this week’s ‘they don’t make ’em like this anymore’ award!