Album Reviews: A Cult Favorite, Preadolescent Soul, and More

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Judy Henske and Jerry Yester, Farewell Aldebaran. It’s easy to see why this 1969 album from then husband-and-wife Jerry Yester and Judy Henske flopped, but just as easy to understand why it has remained a cult favorite for nearly half a century. Originally released on Frank Zappa’s Bizarre label, the vintage LP contains 10 tracks that sound like the work of almost as many groups, none of them all that commercial; and Henske, a versatile vocalist, could be mistaken here for several different singers. Cohesive? Not particularly. Impressive and frequently fascinating? Yes. The lyrics, which often seem like the product of someone on an acid trip, can be as impenetrable as they are poetic, and you’d have to have pretty diverse tastes to fall for the entire program, which ranges from guitar-based rock to moody ballads to lush pop to Renaissance music. But this reissue—which couples the 1969 release with five instrumental demos—is worth a listen. Not all of the experiments pay off but there are moments of beauty on tracks such as “Three Ravens.” At worst, the album will give you a taste for just how much studio experimentation went down in the '60s. At best, you’ll join the cult.

Girls on Grass, Girls on Grass. Though this Brooklyn-based quartet includes two guys, bassist Dave Mandi and guitarist Sean Eden, they stick to their instruments on this high-octane debut CD while drummer Nancy Polstein and guitarist Barbara Endies share vocal chores. On some of the tracks, they flirt with Americana and country; but when they rock, which is most of the time, they sound redolent of the Go-Gos and early Bangles. There’s also a rawness and punk sensibility to the vocals, guitar work, and production that reminds me of the first Blondie album.

Jeremiah Johnson Band, Blues Heart Attack. Though I find the all-original blues-rock program here uneven, the soulful vocals and blistering guitar work that characterize the best of it are potent enough to jump start any party. The St. Louis-based trio features its namesake on guitar and lead vocals, plus Jeff Girardier on bass and Benet Schaeffer on drums. Augmenting their sound are a keyboard player and a hot saxophonist. Check out the guitar pyrotechnics on tracks like “Skip That Stone,” which recalls the Allman Brothers on a good night. 

Various artists, Afterschool Special: The 123s of Kid Soul. As artists ranging from Frankie Lymon to the Jackson 5 have proved, you don’t have to be old enough to vote to produce good soul music. OK, so there’s a hint of bubblegum in much of this anthology of little-known preadolescent soul groups, but so what? The music is bright, danceable, and well sung. Highlights on the 19-song program include the catchy “Runnin’ Wild (Ain’t Gonna Help You),” by Scott Three, which reminds me of Jay & the Techniques; the Bennetts’ soulful ballad, “I Want a Little Girl”; and a version of Gil Scott-Heron’s vintage “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” that sounds surprisingly well suited to a group of youngsters who call themselves the Brother’s Rap.

Shane Alexander, Bliss. Alexander has been recording since 2005, but the self-produced Bliss, his atmospheric sixth album, is the first I’ve heard from him. The West Coast folk/rock here is more commercial than innovative but that said, it has notable strengths, starting with Alexander’s sweet tenor, acoustic guitar work, and catchy, well-hooked songs, which flow seamlessly into one another. When I get to the end of the last track, the delicate and seductive title tune, I’m inclined to hit “repeat.”

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Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com), a longtime magazine editor, has written about music, politics, and popular culture for more than 75 periodicals. His books include Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon as well as Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches and Encounters and Leonard Cohen…

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