Karen Dalton – [Album]

Friday, 20 February 2009

Karen Dalton's In My Own Time comes with a compelling back story. Dalton—a lost voice of the early 60's folk music boom and regular in the Greenwich Village scene—was one of Bob Dylan's favorite singers. Nonetheless, she didn't record until late in the decade, and then only made two albums, both of which quickly faded into obscurity. Dalton struggled with homelessness and drug addiction for much of her life, and died in 1993.

Anthology Records has now released In My Own Time, the only proper studio album she made. (Her other album, It's Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You Best, was recorded surreptitiously, due her reluctance to record). In My Own Time was recoded at Dylan's Woodstock studio, and was originally released in 1971.

Unluckily, the album isn't as compelling as the backstory. At least not on first listen.

The problem is Dalton's voice, which is certainly unique. It has a sharp twang to it, which I found initially off-putting. It's not exactly tuneful; at times I even found it grating. However, as I got used to it, I began to find it rather soulful. It is, in the end, a very expressive voice, in a haunting, pained way. You can certainly feel the torment of her life in these songs, especially the more downbeat ones. But even something like "How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by You)" comes across as mournful in her voice.

The material on In My Own Time is all cover songs. Although she may have written some original songs, Dalton never recorded any. But the material is well chosen, fitting perfectly with her voice. There is a consistent theme of yearning throughout the album. Songs like "Something on Your Mind," "Take Me” and "One Night of Love" all strive towards some unattainable love or lover.

The album—tastefully produced by Harvey Brooks—is fairly standard folk rock, with a relaxed swing. A rich tapestry of backing musicians complement, but never intrude on Dalton's vocals. The musicians sound like they are having a good time, jamming along with Dalton, finding the perfect notes and nuances to emphasize her vocals without ever overwhelming them.

Despite my initial reservations, in the end I found In My Own Time a fascinating and moving album. Such a distinct, emotive voice is not for everyone, but I am certain many listeners will fall deeply in love with it.


In My Own Time is out now. Buy it on Amazon.


Comments are closed.