DALTON Karen 1938-1993

I post Karen Dalton, first because I love her singing, and also, those albums came out when I was in my 20's and they were really a shock. When I listen to them today, particulary the first one, the thrill is the same... How can someone and something be so sad and so beautiful... She died completly ignored in 1993. The pics, are not first class but that's all what I could find. Memories...

Karen Dalton was an American folk singer and banjo player associated with the early 1960's Greenwich Village folk scene, particularly with Fred Neil and the Holy Modal Rounders as well as Bob Dylan. She sang the blues and played the twelve string Gibson guitar and a long (27 frets!) neck banjo. A photo by Fred W. McDarrah appears in the the coffee table book "Dylan: a man called alias" by Richard Williams, featuring Karen Dalton singing with Fred Neil and Bob Dylan at the Bitter End in early '61.

Known as "the folksinger's answer to Billie Holiday" and "Sweet Mother K.D.", it is said that the song "Katie's Been Gone" by The Band from the Basement Tapes was written about her.
Karen was not a writer but she made every song her own. On her two albums she covered songs by Paul Butterfield, Richard Manuel, Dino Valenti, Fred Neil, Tim Hardin, Leadbelly, Jelly Roll Morton, George Jones, Richard Tucker as well as suberb personal versions of more traditional folk tunes..

Dalton’s voice sounds like it could sound no other way, slipping always just beyond her control, like there’s a rupture between ‘her’ and her ‘voice.’ It’s the type of voice that makes me want to ask her, “O Karen, why aren’t you singing in a normal, easily digestible style that will make your record popular,” despite knowing exactly what the answer is that that popular record would not be now making me feel queasy and seasick and lovelorn over thirty years after its recording; that even if she had somehow made a more popular record it would have ended up even more forgotten now, unable to reach through time, just like all those other dusty post-folk singer-songwriter records that today sound so inert in their confident expression. She struggled with drugs and alcohol for many years and died in 1993 in Bearsville, NY and was fairly bad off in her later years..

"It's Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best" (1969) Capitol

All the Karen Dalton's interviews, testifies that Karen was impossible to get to know. Despite moving from Oklahoma to New York’s East Village with a 12-string, a banjo, and a kid in 1960 and hanging out and performing with all the scene notables, she ended up recording her album after the acoustic folk boom had ended, 1969, and only because her friend Fred Neil and his producer tricked her into it at the end of one of their recording sessions. It was recorded quickly and live, with few overdubs, catching Dalton’s voice up-close and tenderly. Sometimes it sounds like new snow underfoot. Her pianistic 12-string playing and Dan Hankin’s acoustic guitar are raw, weaving round each other like ivy on old brickwork, creating a diffident Morrison/Reed-esque ‘accidental’ beauty. None of the songs on this album are written by her—they were made famous by people as diverse as Fred Neil, “Jelly Roll” Morton, and Otis Redding—but she makes them hers for the length of time that she plays them.

The ad-hoc nature of the album also means that it covers a very small area in terms of tone-colour, arrangement, pacing, and emotion; it can be too one-note even in its brief thirty-two minute running time. In short bursts however It’s So Hard… can be mesmerising, and in total it’s sometimes, although hopefully not too often, one of the all-time great late night cry accompaniers.


Her second album, "In My Own Time" (1971), was recorded at Bearsville studios, produced by Bob Dylan's former bass player Harvey Brooks, with liner notes by Fred Neil, originally released on Michael Lang's (Woodstock promoter) label, "Just Sunshine". The cover photos were taken by Elliot Landy, and The Band's current piano player, Richard Bell, guested on the album.
Fred Neil who had first brought her to the attention of Capitols's staff producer Nick Venet, wrote in his 1971 liner notes to "In My Own Time: "Karen has been my favorite female vocalist as well as a heavy influence on my own style of singing since the early sixties. I first picked up on her one night in the village at the "Cock & Bull" (later the Bitter End). Her voice grabbed me immediately. She did "Blues On The Ceiling" (which is my song) with so much feeling that if she told me she had written it herself I would have believed her. After the set Dino Valenti took me up to Karen's place. Later that night we jammed. Karen was like a letter from home. Her voice is so unique, to describe it would take a poet. All I can say is she sure can sing the shit out of the blues"

"In my own time" (1971)

As sophisticated and striking a talent as she was, Dalton never approached the success of some Greenwich Village contemporaries. The traditional "Katie Cruel" embittered and unforgiving, is abandoned on the outskirts; Dalton sounds like she's been rehearsing the tune since she was a toddler, while her modest banjo is overshadowed by a mystic violin. "It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best", predecessor to "In My Own Time", is steadier and more authentic, but it was also recorded –or so the story goes– without the reluctant Dalton's knowledge. This is a singer's showcase: varied, polished, and seemingly a promise of more to come. That nothing did is cruel.

"Something On Your Mind". This limited edition 7-inch from Karen Dalton. Includes the hauntingly beautiful "Something On Your Mind", taken from Light In The Attic’s new reissue of Dalton's 1971 masterpiece "In My Own Time", backed by a previously unreleased alternate mix of the classic traditional "Katie Cruel".


Fantastic!!! My friend David just send me the link for this video.
Karen Dalton sings "It hurts me too". A must see... it's here HERE.

2 comments:

David Bruce said...

And, thank YOU for introducing me to her! :^)

David Bruce said...

You're very welcome, Daniel! :^)
And, thank *you* for introducing me to her music.