Label: Light In The Attic
Karen Dalton's 1971-released second album is given a deluxe 50th-anniversary reissue, freshly remastered with brand-new liner notes and a grab-bag of extra material, including previously-unreleased live recordings and alternate takes. A masterpiece, with or without the trimmings. Oklahoma-born icon Dalton is having a a moment, again. Last year, director Robert Yapkowitz released his documentary feature "Karen Dalton: In My Own Time", and now the the film's namesake is getting a deluxe reissue. Dalton straddled folk, blues, jazz and pop, and influenced so man musicians in our orbit it's hard to keep track. The documentary alone features contributions from Angel Olsen, Julia Holter and Nick Cave, and the reissue's liner notes includes an appearance from superfan Devendra Banhart. Dalton's power lied in her ability to blur genre lines - her distinctive gravelly voice able to embody country, R&B, blues and jazz simultaneously, without pandering to any stereotype.
Half Cherokee and half Irish, Dalton played twelve string guitar and long-neck banjo, and only recorded two albums in her lifetime, despite being a key figure in the 1960s Greenwish village scene and playing alongside luminaries like Tim Hardin and Bob Dylan. She was famously particular about her sound, hating industry involvement in music she felt was personal and important - her debut album "It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best" was only recorded after the producer tricked Dalton into playing, thinking the tape wasn't recording. "In My Own Time" was released two years later and Dalton pushed through her nerves by having her two children, dog and horse bussed in from Oklahoma.
The result was a heartfelt set of songs that, while familiar - 'When a Man Loves a Woman', 'Katie Cruel', 'How Sweet it Is' - sounds completely unique in Dalton's hands. She had a way of making songs her own, not just with that unforgettable vocal turn, but with the unusual arrangements. A traditional song like 'Katie Cruel' had been performed and recorded hundreds of times, but it's Dalton's version that feels like the standard at this point, taking on extra resonance with hindsight. When she sang of being unwelcome in town, wandering alone, it's hard not to think about her tragic death, following years struggling with homelessness, addiction and Aids. And it was the failure of this album, now rightly regarded as a classic, that helped accelerate her depression and substance problems.
The album's additional material is solid: alternate takes of 'Katie Cruel', 'In My Own Dream' and 'Something on Your Mind' are interesting curios, and the bounty of live material, including a German recording of 'Take Me' and a slew of tracks recorded at the Montreaux Golden Rose Pop Festival in 1971, is engaging. But it's the remastered full album that will floor you. If you've never come across it before, do yerself a favor.