I forget what year it was, probably around '77, but I was in the process of expanding my musical palette and ran across, buried away in a pile of ridiculously cheap vinyl at a warehouse store in West L.A., an LP by someone I'd never heard of, a woman by the name of Karen Dalton. The LP was fairly plain and titled In My Own Time, which seemed to be a play on a song I was familiar with. Flipping it over, I noted a very eclectic selection of songs but, yep, especially a cover of Butterfield's In My Own Dream from one of my favorite early bluesrock LPs. Getting home with the disc, I tossed it on the turntable and was dumbstruck to hear what seemed to be Billie Holiday covering Paul Butterfield! Moving to her rendition of How Sweet It is to be Loved by You, I was further stunned. This woman had completely turned the standard around, reshaping the pop soul hit into a honky tonked semi-jazz swing shuffle.
And it's that chameleonic inner aesthetic transposition mode which distinguished the tormented chanteuse, causing Dylan, Fred Neil, Tim Hardin, and the inner circle of the folk elite of the day to laud her unique virtues. The woman, however, was a Salinger-esque figure whom the promo lit designates as "remote, mercurial". That only begins the catalogue. Karen Dalton was born Cheyenne, boasted a dark beauty, went through a rather intense set of rounds with hard drugs, drink, and men, and could not bear city life, forever escaping to woods and mountains to maintain a fragile temperament. Her wild spirit found civilization too capricious, malevolent, destructive, and cruel.
Speaking of cruel, I have a penchant for damning my 'fellow' crits for their frequently extraordinarily wanting 'graces', but Ben Edmonds here pens a knowing, sympathetic, and ultimately warm essay on Dalton that begins to illuminate the tragic recluse. And speaking of recluses, listen to what she does to the traditional Cotton Eyed Joe, turning it (Nick) Drakian in a fashion never attempted, to my knowledge, before or since. This occurs more than once on the disc, as opposed to the heavily Holiday-esque Time LP. And these recordings, home taped transcriptions, are a trifle below par, but the quality of delivery lifts them up well beyond any technical concerns. The third in a series of found jewels issued by various labels, they're as important as the Steve Mann releases of recent years (here and here) (one of which boasts lost Janis Joplin work).
I guarantee you that this disc will soon be sitting in the sound libraries of the aforementioned greats, those yet alive that is, as well as with Tom Waits, who harbors a huge affection for such materials, and every hard-core aficionado of artists displaying a genius for mutating songs in a fashion that's unreal and often scary-good. 1966 isn't just another thank-Christ-someone-found-it gem, it's archaeological treasure, and we can only hope it and that earlier other pair of releases finally somehow bring Dalton the fame she never enjoyed while on this Earth, having passed away in 1993 at the too young age of 56.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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