'60's Folk Singer Broke All the Rules

This is such a wide-ranging album of varying degrees of music and entertainment that it’s virtually impossible to classify or label…and that’s probably the way Judy Henske enjoyed it. Like her first two albums for Elektra, this collection of songs ranges from Broadway-inspired pop to folk to soul, folk-rock, and blues (and beyond). Henske’s ability to mark her territory in all of these genres, define it… and then burn it down - is decidedly spellbinding. But aside from her astonishing voice, this live in-the-studio record captures her hilarious, slightly stoned-out humor. To be sure, they’ll probably be a few listeners who will be tempted to skip some of the lengthy, in between song raps and introductions; but they’d be selling themselves short. Inspired by Lenny Bruce and Lord Buckley (among others) Judy’s politically-incorrect/Beat attitude wreaks havoc over codified ‘rules’ of public behavior, especially for women in 1966. As emancipated, independent and equally talented as Slick, Joplin or Elliot, Judy Henske should be mentioned in the same breath as those women - and the proof is right here.

Cut live before an ‘invited’ audience at R.C.A. Studios on Sunset in Hollywood (yes, Dave Hassinger at the control board), the music was arranged and conducted by the legendary Jack Nitzsche - who also gets a production credit on the album’s label. Henske is also backed by the cream of L.A. session players, including Earl Palmer, Tommy Tedesco, Jules Wechter and guitarist John Forsha, who had played on Henske’s previous records. The musical performances have all of the precision that these players are well known for, to be sure, but in this live setting there is also a unique element of spontaneity that is rarely heard from these instrumental firebrands. The combination of these elements renders about 40 minuets of powerful music (and comedy) in a near-cabaret setting.

One of the high points is “Betty And Dupree”, which may be the greatest example of female blue-eyed soul/rock, perhaps even besting Janis Joplin’s legendary reading of “Ball And Chain”. An early Eric Anderson tune, “Hey Babe”, is a strident and then-modern example of progressive coffeehouse folk, with the underlying element of the hippie movement’s rhythm already firmly in place. Henske handles it like her own child, alternately cooing and raging the lyrics to enormous effect. The album’s Dillards-penned closer, “Nobody Knows” is folk-rock in all of it’s 12-string jangled glory, and with this big band swinging behind a vocalist of this quality, it ends the record on an affirmative, powerful note.

With all of that said, I do have some problems with this release. As Richie Unterberger mentions in his liner notes, there were at least two non-LP singles from the sessions, which, even in as imperfect world such as this should have definitely been included. This fact is underlined by the desirability of Jack Nitzsche’s recordings, especially from this post-Spector, pre-Neil Young period. What happened here?

In the end, the album has a slightly transitional quality to it. This is hindsight, however. Henske’s first two albums contained a wide variety of music, like this one, but were definitely coming for a place in pop. This album fully addresses this and folk-rock…and factoring in Judy’s off the wall, somewhat psychedelicized humor, you have a brilliant Polaroid of her artistry circa 1966. Her next release would be a jump into the deep end of the experimental psychedelic pool, 1968’s beautifully eclectic Farewell, Aberdeen (cut with Jerry Yester). But this album (nay, performance) is a postcard from the edge, and deserves a rightful place in record collections of 60’s pop, blues & folk/rock fans.