In My Own Time by Karen Dalton


Karen Dalton is often praised by other artists. In 2015, Adele described her voice as eerie and haunting. Nick Cave, in the sleevenotes to this reissue said that when he plays her music to friends, a lot of them say “Please take that fucking record off” but he feels that “she understood the blues better than the folk milieu she was hanging out with”. In Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles”, he compared her voice to Billie Holiday and her guitar playing to Jimmy Reed. Her voice is unique and has been compared to Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse, although she herself said that Bessie Smith had been a big influence. Rather more rudely, her voice has been likened to a battered trumpet, the antithesis to Joan Baez’s boring clarity and Judy Collins’ sweetness.

Karen Dalton was born in 1937 into a family with Cherokee ancestry. She married twice before the age of 21, and had a child by each husband. In a fight between two of her boyfriends, she lost two bottom teeth. She headed to Greenwich Village at the start of the Sixties where she became well known in the folk clubs, playing alongside Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens and Dino Valenti. She married a third time, to Richard Tucker, and they moved to Colorado where Nick Venet, producer of The Beach Boys (and “California Bloodlines” by John Stewart) recorded her first album, called “It’s So Hard to Tell Who’s Going to Love You the Best” .

Michael Lang had been one of the creators of The Woodstock Festival and, in 1971, he arranged for Karen Dalton to record her second, and final album at Bearsville Studios (which actually were in Woodstock, unlike the Festival, which took place 40 miles away). “In My Own Time” was produced by Harvey Brooks, who had played bass on Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” and The Doors’ “The Soft Parade”. He went on to produce many other albums in the late Sixties, including Quicksilver Messenger Service’s eponymous debut album. Richard Bell plays piano on the album and he had been in Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band; he would also play in the reformed The Band in the Nineties. Bobby Notkoff plays violin; this was two years after the rest of his band, The Rockets, deserted him to form Crazy Horse to back Neil Young. He can be heard playing on the stunning “Running Dry” from “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. John Simon also plays piano on “In My Own Time” and he had produced The Band’s first two albums, playing tenor saxophone, piano, electric piano, tuba, baritone horn, tenor saxophone and tambourine on “Music From Big Pink” and “The Band”. One of the three drummers on “In My Own Time” is Danny Seiwell, who went on to be a founding member of Wings.

There are many outstanding moments on “In My Own Time” but the opening song, “Something On Your Mind”, is sublime. It was written by Dino Valenti, who Karen Dalton had met in Greenwich Village. He wrote “Let’s Get Together”, a wonderful song made popular by The Youngbloods. He was sentenced to a 1-10 year prison stretch in Folsom Prison for drugs offences. To pay for his defence, he sold the rights to “Let’s Get Together” to Frank Werber, the manager of The Kingston Trio. He spent two years in prison and was loosely associated with Quicksilver Messenger Service for two years, writing one song on their first album (produced by Harvey Brooks), before joining them full time in 1970. The quality of Karen Dalton’s singing on “Something On Your Mind”, her unsurpassed ability to phrase the lines of a song in a uniquely emotional way and the timbre of her voice make this song really special. Bobby Notkoff’s violin playing is the icing on the cake of an unforgettable performance.

“Something On Your Mind” has also been recorded by Molly Tuttle, on “…But I’d Rather Be With You” and The Breath.

Karen Dalton wrote, but never recorded, her own songs. Many of the songs on this album are familiar. “When A Man Loves A Woman” was made popular by Percy Sledge; “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” had been a hit for Marvin Gaye; “In A Station” was on The Band’s first album and was a typically forthright and personal song written by the tragic Richard Manuel.

I first heard “Katie Cruel” on Lankum’s “The Livelong Day” in which they stretch the song out to nearly ten minutes. Karen Dalton’s version is just over two minutes long. Nick Cave describes her performance thus: “She does embody the character absolutely. There’s something that’s inherent in her voice, an understanding of this kind of sorrow. She knows how to be sad.”

After the commercial failure of “In My Own Time”, Karen Dalton released no more records. Substance abuse led to her being homeless for a while and dying in Woodstock of an AIDS related illness in 1993, aged 55.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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