There are plenty of neglected albums that claim to be lost gold, but very few of them actually live up to their billing. Farewell Aldebaran is one shining exception, a bona fide classic that was roundly ignored when it was first released on Frank Zappa’s Straight label in 1969. Was it too daring? Did it need better promotion? Or was it just too damn eclectic for its own good?
Whatever the reason, it wasn’t down to its creators’ lack of form or the A&R ear of their moustachioed label boss. Jerry Yester had already passed through the New Christy Minstrels, The Modern Folk Quartet and The Lovin’ Spoonful, as well as having produced Tim Buckley and The Association. Wife Judy Henske, meanwhile, had been a forceful presence on the Greenwich Village folk scene for some years, cutting a couple of albums for Elektra. But neither of their respective track records quite prepares you for Farewell Aldebaran, which occupies a weird and wonderful space somewhere between gothic folk and psychedelic church music. One of its most striking elements is Henske’s voice, a strident vehicle for her classically-leaning poetry. Snowblind is a prime exemplar, a rock’n’roll rattler with a formal lyric about the destructiveness of love and the fire of lust, with co-producer and Spoonful pal Zal Yanovsky on bass and guitar and Buckley cohort Larry Beckett on drums.
Among the other contributors is Kaleidoscope (the US group) founder David Lindley, who adds five-string banjo to the magnificent Raider, which sounds like a lysergic bluegrass swinger. The more sombre side of the album, meanwhile, is best served by the choral repose of St. Nicholas Hall and the baroque beauty of Three Ravens. And nothing quite out-weirds the title track, an account of a flight from the titular giant star with Paul Beaver (of Beaver & Krause fame) on Moog synth.
A remarkable achievement, Farewell Aldebaran still has the power to startle and amaze in equal measure – and this long overdue official reissue comes on multicoloured vinyl too.