MUSiC: Farewell Aldebaran, Jerry Yester & Judy Henske, 1969

Well, this arrived in todays mail. I bought it (very cheap, via It’s possibly a bit off my usual musical map. But I got it to explore various tendrils that emanate from Tom Waits’ 1973 debut, Closing Time.

The primary connection is Jerry Yester, ex-MFQ (Modern Folk Quartet), and the man who replaced Zal Yanofsky in The Lovin’ Spoonful, who produced Closing Time.

Yester and Henske, with pet and progeny.

Here Yester is working with his then wife, Judy Henske, a folk singer and scenester, once called ‘The Queen of The Beats’!

Other connections with Waits consist in thus first being issued on Herb Cohen and Frank Zappa’s Straight (or was it Bizarre/Straight?) label. The CE-reissue is on the aptly named Phoenix Records label, with ASH- as the serial no prefix, alluding to a rebirth.

The Phoenix label CD are-issue.

The record disappeared straight into obscurity upon release. But has subsequently acquired something of a cult following.

Does it merit one? Hmmm… I’d say, not exactly. At least not to my ears. Or perhaps that’s just ‘not on first listen’? And, as I listen to it now, I’m not sure how many more listens I’d be willing to give it.

The vocal duties are split between Henske and Yester. Of their two voices, and I’m not really a fan of either, I’d say I marginally prefer his. Hers is a bit more ‘dated ‘60s folkstress’, and sometimes gets overly strident! For my tastes.

The music is very much – like the polarised photo in the cover – of its time. And whilst that can be fab’ n’ groovy, it can also just seem a bit mannered and dated. And this stuff, I’m afraid, for me at any rate, leans heftily towards the latter.

Lyrically it’s pretty bizarre, the first track, ‘Snowblind’, sounding almost hallucinogenic. Whereas track four, ‘St Nicholas Hall’ almost sounds like a text for a church fundraiser! Very odd.

Apparently the lyrics are pretty much all Henske’s doing, whilst the music is Yester’s work. Only the opener ‘Snowblind’ being a collaboration between them both, with, rather oddly it might seem, Zal Yanofsky, whom Yester had replaced in The Lovin’ Spoonful.

I prefer the mellower less strident stuff. Such as ‘Lullaby’. But even then it’s not quite down my boulevard. Whilst musically it is quite wide-ranging, there are moments that nod vigorously towards their folkster heritage.

At this point I am starting to listen through a second time, and I am also liking it a bit more. Snowblind was a single! It is quite poppy. It’s also quite ‘psych’, even a tad psychedelic. The lyrics are downright weird. And I’m really not keen on the moments where Henske gets screamy.

As already alludes to, a product o’ it’s times, methinks! But I do like the bass and guitar work on Snowblind: raw and nasty! And I like how Henske bends the note downwards on the word Snowblind.

The single of Snowblind was backed by track two, ‘Horses on a Stick’. Lyrically what we have is more late ‘60s weirdness! I can’t even tell if this is Judith or Jerry singing… I’m guessing it’s Jerry in the foreground, and both adding harmonies!?

This cranky pop ditty appears to be about ‘merry go rounds’, or whatever they might symbolically allude to. But this is no ‘Circle Game’!

Track three is the first one I actually outright like. Dominated by Judy, singing in a more mellow vocal vein – very nicely, actually – with keys and guitars backing. The keys sound like harpsichord, celeste, or possibly even clavichord? With a little piano appearing, very effectively, towards the end.

The tinkling keys continue on St Nicholas Hall, albeit now with a warbling monophonic synth line over the top. I like this number, mostly for its strangeness, and the fact I’ve been visiting churches a lot recently. What on earth it’s actually about, if anything other than the obvious, I have no idea!

Something that I’m beginning to discern on a second listen is that chordally and harmonically there’s sometimes a slight jazzy turn, which their folk pop heritage wouldn’t necessarily suggest. It’s only very occasional. But when it happens, it really warms the sound up.

Track five ‘Three Ravens’ is another that I’m coming round to. And – given that the ‘legendary lost recording’ vibe prob’ derives from the weirder aspects of this album – this is one of the most conventional numbers. It’s kind of pop-folk soused in weird easy-listening, with lush harp and strings. Even brass, as the song crescendos, towards its end.

‘Raider’, which would’ve kicked off side two, in vinyl days of yore, is the most overtly folksy track. Keys, hammer dulcimer (or something like it; (?)?), and harmonica(s?) all add to the trad’ vibes. Yester’s quavering hi-pitched multi-layered vocals are a little bit Jerry Garcia. One of the better tracks, methinks.

I’ll have to study the lyric sheet… ‘Mrs Connor’ sounds like a slightly macabre fairy tale, on first gloss. Musically I like it. The various keyboards, and some vibes or similar tuned percussion, are a good combination.

Rather annoyingly, there seems to be an ‘artefact’ – a disc-fault? – about 1:30 in to track eight, ‘Rapture’. The vocal is great; and it’s been treated with a very groovy and yet subtle effect that I can’t quite put my finger on. I’m beginning to realise… maybe this album is worthy of cult status? Or at least a few of the tracks, perhaps? This being one such.

‘Charity’ starts out beautifully. But when it hits the chorus it gets a bit declamatory for my tastes. There’s a beautiful folk-pop feel in the verses. Perhaps this patchwork quality is part of this albums simultaneous strengths and weakness?

And finally we come to track ten, ‘Farewell Aldebaran’, the title number. Here we reach the apotheosis of the albums erratic mix of psych-pop-folk-weirdness. Around the two-minute mark the vocals go all Dr Who/Davros/Dalek… phew!

I have to admit that on the first listen, I bailed out on this track. It just plain old fashioned did my head in!

As the CD player cycles back to ‘Snowblind’, for play number three, I think Yester and Henske have successfully inserted a sonic, crowbar inside my cranium, and opened it up a little bit…

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