The latest release by Judy Henske. Dubbed by Jack Nietszche (the Rolling Stones' producer) "the Queen of the Beatniks," Henske was--is--
no ordinary folk singer. She signed to Elektra Records in '63, when it was
a young, still-vital label, and recorded one of the classic folk albums of all time (HIGH FLYING BIRD). She performed at legendary clubs like the Village Gate, the hungry i and Mr. Kelly's--sometimes on a bill with Woody Allen or Lenny Bruce--and on TV, including a memorable appearance on the short-lived JUDY GARLAND SHOW. Her early albums were characterized by a breathtaking eclecticism--she recorded everything from Buckeye Jim and Empty Bed Blues to Baltimore Oriole and Bart Howard's You Are Not My First Love--though she clearly had a special affinity for the blues--the full-out, wailing kind. Her live album, 1965's live DEATH-DEFYING JUDY HENSKE, with its long sections of between-song repartee, gave a good sense of her dry, hip sense of humor, which would later surface in her self-penned songs.
All this won her a cult of lifelong fans. Which is fortunate because,
after a mere four solo albums recorded in the '60s, Henske decided to take about 25 years off to raise her daughter and to write songs with musician-husband Craig Doerge, songs that would be recorded by the likes of Bette Midler (Yellow Beach Umbrella) and Crosby Stills & Nash (Might As Well Have a Good Time). But with the release in 2000 of LOOSE IN THE WORLD--her first solo album in all that time--it was as if she had never been gone. The fans are still there, most of the old albums have been reissued on CD, and she is winning fresh hosannahs from critics. (Rock critic Dave Marsh hailed her, in Playboy, as "beyond all categories except 'legendary' and 'great.'")
If anything, SHE SANG CALIFORNIA is even stronger than LOOSE. The
CD cover--colorful, oddly beautiful and offbeat--hints at the baker's dozen of equally colorful musical stories within: The barroom raucousness of Irving Berlin's Ace in the Hole, a longtime favorite in Henske's concerts (it also
appears on DEATH-DEFYING); the gutbucket blues of the traditional Duncan & Brady (also recorded here for a second time); the pained moan of Easy Rider; and, my favorite, Tell Old Bill, a sort of combination blues shout and New Orleans funeral march (with Henske accompanying herself on banjo, backed by Graham Nash on harmonica).
And then there are the Henske-Doerge originals, which comprise the bulk of her recordings and concerts these days. (He writes the music, she writes the lyrics.) They lean toward the narrative--not surprisingly, like many traditional folk songs--telling a story that is sometimes sad or wistful but always shot through with flashes of Henske's humor--wry and skewed, yet compassionate. Sung in a voice that is alternately raw, world weary, and brimming with the life-force of a survivor, and given the barroom feel of many of the arrangements, they represent a sort of a nouveau saloon song.
Here they range from the traditionally bluesy Big Fat Man, to the singsong-y Ballad of Seymour Cray (a tribute to the father of the supercomputer, who hails from Henske's home town of Chippewa Falls, WI), to the wacky--and quintessentially Henskesque--Maurice, Maurice ("The cow fell down and broke her legs / It's hard to milk her now / We prop her up against the barn / And milk her anyhow / Why does tragedy continually plague us?"). Or take the title tune, the conceit of which finds Henske, in a bar, meeting Elaine Savage, a failed actress who supposedly had a small
but memorable role in THE BAD & THE BEAUTIFUL years before and now, disillusioned with fame ("Goodbye Hollywood Boulevard and all your phony baloney golden dreams"), gamely sets her sights on new horizons ("She sang 'California, California goodbye!").
Even better are the despair of the torchy, half-spoken Cocktail World ("She drinks all night / She goes home, gets up in the morning and drinks all day") and the almost painful nostalgia of Western Wisconsin:
It wasn't so long ago
Under the willow trees
My cousin Nancy and me
We took off our shoes
And we waded in the Chippewa....
Every summer in western Wisconsin
A thousand miles from the sea.
Now we are living where there are no sidewalks
My husband, my baby and me
And every Sunday we go to the ocean
And sit in the sunshine with beautiful strangers
And, oh, how my heart is aching for Nancy.
Needless to say, Doerge--who has toured and recorded with artists
like Midler, Jackson Browne, Art Garfunkel and CS&N--not only leads the band here but, on keyboards,
provides Henske with the most sensitive and appropriate support throughout,
demonstrating unfailing instincts as an accompanist that clearly have been fine-tuned by working with--and being married to--Henske for thirty-odd (probably very odd) years.
Michael Mascioli (All Music Services.com)
SOME EARLY COMMENTS ON JUDY'S NEW CD - SHE SANG CALIFORNIA
JUDY HENSKE has given birth to a new album, She Sang California, which
I yam honored to have sneaked in some guitar, dobro and background
vocal work on. The album also features such heavy company as Judy's
husband, supersession pianoman/master composer/arranger Craig Doerge,
plus Lee Sklar, Graham Nash, Russ Kunkel, Norton Buffalo, Richie Hayward,
Fred Tackett, and many other fine musicians.
Judy da Cootie (as I affectionately call her) is known as the legendary
Queen Of The Beatniks; the woman whom Sam Cooke biographer Daniel
Wolfe says put the whorehouse back into the blues; the literary muse
of creepy old Andrew Vachs; a one-of-a-kind combo platter of Bessie
Smith, Sophie Tucker, Lenny Bruce, Allan Ginsberg, Tom Waits, Dorothy
Love Coates, Jean-Paul Sartre, Rusty Warren, Tuli Kupferberg, the
Marx Brothers, Frank Capra and Shirley MacLaine.
Judy is the most uniquely talented person I've ever worked with --
her recordings and performances combine every cool style of music
under the sun with stand-up comedy, beat poetry, vaudeville, philosphy
and method acting. "She Sang California" is, in my opinion,
her best album ever. It'll make ya alternately laugh, cry, dance,
drink and think. S'a goddamned masterpiece, is what it is.
The official release of "She Sang California" (I believe
she also sings New Orleans, Chicago, Memphis and Western Wisconsin)
isn't until February but you can pick up a pre-release copy at Judy's
website http://judyhenske.com While yer in there, sign her guestbook
and tell her I done sentcha.
- BUDDY BLUE - music critic for the SAN DIEGO UNION & often, THE
SAN JOSE MERCURY PRESS
Judy, I drink scotch, play golf, read Andy Vachss and listen to you.
Doesn't get any better than that!! Richard Murtland, Dallas TX, 12/7/04
DEAR JUDY & CRAIG: MY COPY OF "SHE SANG..." ARRIVED
IN THE POST AND THE WORLD WAS MADE RIGHT AGAIN, "SHE SANG CALIFORNIA"
IS SWINGIN' AND SOULFUL AND IT CAKEWALKS, TOO! JUDY, YOUR VOICE, YOUR
HUMOR AND YOUR HUMANITY IS REALLY BALM FOR THE SOUL IN THESE FRIGHTENING
TIMES. I BURST INTO BELLY LAUGHS ON "BIG FAT MAN" AND "COCKTAIL
WORLD" HAS A REALISM THAT "LUSH LIFE" AND "SOMETHING
COOL" CAN'T COME CLOSE TO. "TELL OLD BILL" I JUST CAN'T
GET OUTTA MY PEA-BRAIN, THANK YOU! AND MR. CRAIG, I THINK WE'LL HAVE
TO START CALLING YOU 'JELLY ROLL' -- SOME DAMN FINE STRIDE THERE,
BUB. ANYHOO, I THINK THIS IS THE BEST THING YOU'VE EVER DONE AND YOUR
FANS COULDN'T ASK FOR ANYTHING BETTER FOR THE IMPENDING HOLIDAY. WISHING
YOU GREAT RICHES, LOTS OF LOVE & 5 STARS IN A "DOWNBEAT"
Allen "Chopsie" Bardin Columbia, SC USA
Just finished the first listen to the new CD. Out the drvieway and
into the slot, heading for the freeway. It starts slow and ends fast
- where have I heard that line before? The usual stressed jostling
is replaces by the calm serenity of hearing something you know will
be part of your musical life. Why is the traffic moving so smoothly
today, if I'm not careful I'll be in the parking lot before the CD
is finished. Move into the slow lane and hope for a delay, this stuff
is funny, good funny. No prangs today, construction on hold, people
are driving more cheerfully; yet I must be the only one listening
to your record. Into the undercover lot as She Sang ... finishes but
no way am I waiting until the end of the day to hear the final numbers.
So I sit there and listen to the end, and feel good about it. And
so to work with the image of a rooster on the make fixed in my mind.
Life just got better. Thanks. David B. Bussard, Perth, WA Australia
- Thursday, December 16, 2004
Your new album arrived today. Nice. I recommend that rather than spending
the money for a bottle of rye whiskey you go out and buy this album.
It will last longer than the rye. Marc Yergin - Pittsburgh
JUDY - I PLAYED THE CD A FEW TIMES & IT IS TERRIFIC! - I LOVE
LOVE COCKTAIL WORLD. I THOUGHT IT WAS ONE OF THE BEST SONGS ON THE
CD--ALONG WITH TELL OLD BILL. AS SALOON SONGS GO, I LIKE IT BETTER
THAN "ONE FOR MY BABY" (WHICH I'VE ALWAYS FELT WAS OVERRATED
ANYWAY). HOW ABOUT *THAT*? AND I ALSO THOUGHT "WESTERN WISCONSIN" WAS PARTICULARLY POIGNANT. WHEN YOU COME UP HERE TO PROMOTE THE CONCERT,
PROMISE ME YOU'LL DO ALL 3, OK? Michael Mascioli. San Francisco, CA
USA - Friday, December 17, 2004