As part of Frank Zappa’s deal with Warner Bros., two imprints were established, Bizarre and Straight, on which FZ would release his own albums, as well as those artists he signed. Those signees included Captain Beefheart, the GTO’s, and Wild Man Fischer, amongst other outsiders. In 1969, Straight released Farewell Aldebaran, the debut LP from Judy Henske & Jerry Yester. Like most of the non-Zappa albums on Bizarre/Straight, Farewell Aldebaran sold squat at the time, though it later developed a cult following, thanks to its unconventional contents. Lesser known is the 1971 album the duo recorded with their band, which is about to be reissued with a slew of previously unreleased tracks.
Jerry Yester, a multi-instrumentalist and session musician, was also a member of a few groups (the Lovin’ Spoonful being one). He’s perhaps best known today as a producer, as he’s been at the helm for a number of recordings, including the debut albums for both Tim Buckley and Tom Waits. Singer Judy Henske, like Yester, came from the folk scene, and was an established recording artist when the two married in 1963.
Farewell Aldebaran, the sole LP the couple released as a duo, is a pleasingly strange affair. Psychedelic blues rock mixes with heavy bubblegum, old timey country, a scary lullaby, and hymn-like tracks that are emotionally powerful. Yester’s musical foundations are expertly executed, while Henske’s vocals alternating between Nico’s gothic approach and Janis Joplin-like frenzy. Encouraged by Zappa, Henske based her lyrics on poems she had written (sample title: “Horses on a Stick”). Everything on the record sounds a bit off, which is partly the reason it failed to find an audience in 1969, but is precisely why Zappa, and, much later, fans of unusual music were drawn to the LP. Out of print for decades, Omnivore Recordings offered up the first authorized reissue of Farewell Aldebaran in 2016.
After their album failed to sell, the couple licked their wounds and decided to change direction. For the Rosebud project, they recruited former Turtles drummer, John Seiter, and songwriter/musician, Craig Doerge, who had worked with Henske in the past. The songs on their lone LP, Rosebud, possess many of the peculiar qualities found on the Henske/Yester record, and is stylistically similar, just a little less out there. Not a surprise, considering the presence of others, and the fact the Doerge co-wrote, with Henske, four of the record’s ten tunes.
“Panama,” the first song on Rosebud, is as off-kilter as anything heard on Farewell Aldebaran. The track opens with sound effects, then morphs into a piano ballad—with Henske’s eccentric vocal affectations firmly on display—before shifting into a funky, world music-like number, complete with African drums. Other highlights include “Reno,” a groovy cowboy song with synth, as well as the bubblegum country rock mixed with gospel that is “Yum Yum Man.” Both “Western Wisconsin,” a lovely tune passionately sung by Doerge, and “Le Soleil,” a showcase for Rosebud’s group harmonies, are fine examples of the numerous hymn-influenced tunes on the album. The record ends with the dreamy “Flying to Morning,” featuring a fantastic vocal performance from Henske.
As the recording sessions for the album were coming to an end, bassist David Vaught was brought into the fold, making Rosebud a five-piece.
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