CD Review: Judy Henske & Jerry Yester - Farewell Aldebaran

A lost classic finally gets rereleased 47 years later.
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The year 1969 should have been an exciting one for the duo of Judy Henske and Jerry Yester. The pair recorded Farewell Aldebaran, an eclectic album that remains hard to classify, but one which exemplifies the "anything goes" mentality of late 1960s rock. They had backing from Frank Zappa, who released it on his avant-garde Straight Records label and it was co-produced by Zal Yanovsky (Who Yester replaced in The Lovin' Spoonful), who also contributed guitar, bass and vocals.

It didn't work out as planned though. The album may have been too diverse for its own good and it received zero promotion from the label. It was soon out of print, where it has remained until 2016 when Omnivore Recordings rereleased it, remastered and with bonus tracks. For fans of the record, it's been a long time coming.

The album opens with the heavy psychedelic blues of "Snowblind." Henske says the lyrics came to her in a dream, the result of asking God for a whole lyric. Henske gives a gritty vocal and Yanovsky delivers some killer lead guitar on this potent opener. "Horses On A Stick" follows and the sound and mood couldn't be any more different. While "Snowblind" was a hard-edged rocker, "Horses" is deliberately bubblegum, a bouncy earworm of a tune done as "lighthearted satire" per Yester.

"Lullaby" and "St. Nicholas Hall" shift the mood yet again. Both are ballads showcasing haunting vocals from Henske with the former intended originally for her newborn daughter while the latter features a Chamberlin, an early ancestor of the Mellotron that sounds as if a choir was joining the group. On "St. Nicholas Hall" in particular, Henske shows off the range of her voice to full effect, giving a dramatic performance.

Yester takes lead vocals on the laid back, bluesy "One More Time." Henske penned the songs lyrics about her grandmother, who had passed away. Henske gives a powerful vocal on "Rapture," highlighting the lower range of her voice on this powerful ballad about the different ways one could die and the kinds of rapture in the world.

The album ends with the spacey sci-fi of the title track. Henske's voice is layered with effects and Paul Beaver (of Beaver and Krause fame) programmed a Moog synthesizer for the song. With its eerie vocals, layered synths and horns and busy drumming, it is a far-out look into the future, both musically and otherwise, and a fitting way to end the album.

Farewell Aldebaran includes five instrumental demos from Yester's personal collection as bonus tracks. Stripped of their vocals, these tracks show how inventive the music was on this record and what a shame it was that it fell through the cracks for all these years.

It's unfortunate that Farewell Aldebaran got lost in the shuffle in 1969. What should have been seen as an album that challenged the norms of popular music was largely ignored. With this rerelease (its first ever on CD), listeners will finally get to hear this lost classic again.