Music

Karen Dalton: 1966

This is the sound of a a woman who left the contemporary world during the pop explosion of the '60s for a home out West.


Karen Dalton

1966

Label: Delmore
US Release Date: 2012-01-24
UK Release Date: 2012-01-24
Amazon
iTunes

Karen Dalton, a former staple of the Greenwich Village folk scene, fled to the mountains of Colorado in 1966 with her husband Richard Tucker. Their place was so remote that it lacked an actual address. The facilities were so primitive that they lacked running water. Still, Dalton had her horse to ride, a banjo to play and a voice with which to sing. And what a strange voice; critics frequently compared her vocals with jazz singer Billie Holiday. That’s only true if one thinks of the raspy Holiday singing of the fifties. Dalton has a much more brittle and aching style. Her recordings sound as if her voice is always about to break.

This is certainly the case on these newly discovered recordings of Dalton in her cabin during 1966. These songs were not meant to be released. Instead, friend Carl Baron just turned on his reel to reel tape recorder while visiting. The tapes lack sonic dynamics by today’s compressed standards, but they reveal the warm intimacy of a musician just singing and playing at home with family and friends listening.

But there is also a formality of presentation here. You never hear Dalton interrupted or the audience respond by clapping. She doesn’t talk between songs. These are just 14 tracks that serve as demos, as if Dalton thought perhaps of recording them in a studio at a later date. It should be noted that her husband does play guitar on one cut, Fred Neil’s “Little Bit of Rain”, and sings in the background on four other cuts. His presence does not make a significant impression. Most of the material recorded here never found their way to vinyl.

One exception is the folk song “Katie Cruel”, which went on to become the tune for which Dalton was best known after recording it five years later. The maudlin lyrics concern a once popular girl who has been rejected by her friends and the townspeople for reasons unclear. Sung in the first person, the version here is more vituperative than sad, unlike the one from the ‘70s. The main character sings of herself with pride and the others with spite. Her refusal to conform is a badge of honour. Dalton’s banjo playing confirms this attitude as she hits the strings hard and plays in the melody in martial time.

Dalton was friends with Tim Hardin, and three of his songs are included here. As far as I can tell, these are Dalton’s only recordings of the tunes, “Reason to Believe”, “Shiloh Town”, and “Don’t Make Promises”. Rod Stewart’s version of “Reason to Believe” recorded several years after this one, is probably the most famous. Stewart offers a bombastic and melodramatic rendition. Dalton takes the opposite approach. Her persona is self-effacing. Dalton stresses the vowel sounds in the words to express her pain “If I listen loooooong enough to yooooh”, she croons emphatically. She blames herself for putting up with an errant lover, and expresses a willingness to continue if she could only convince herself that things would change. But Dalton knows better.

The other tracks are a mix of traditional tunes (“Cotton Eyed Joe”, “Green Rocky Road”, Mole in the Ground“), jazz and blues (“God Bless the Child”, “Misery Blues”), assorted tunes from the public domain (“2:19 Train”, “Hallelujah”), and another Fred Neil composition (“Other Side to This Life”). Dalton sings and plays them all with conviction, as if she is singing her life story. The fact that many of these are tragic unfortunately matches up with her fate. She struggled with drugs and alcohol and reportedly died of AIDS after a period of living homeless in the streets of New York City.

That’s a different story for another time. Here is the more resilient Dalton, whose playing and singing captures hard times but who still sounds strong. This is the sound of a woman who left the contemporary world during the pop explosion of the ‘60s for a home out West. These cuts may be little more than glorified home recordings, but they are more than charming. They capture the heart and soul of a gifted talent in an unadorned frame. It is outsider art of a high order.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

Festival promises an incredible audio-visual experience from musicians and artists like Solange, St. Vincent, Thom Yorke, Ryoji Ikeda and more.

With 2017 coming to a close, year-end lists are pouring forth, and everyone is wondering what were some of the hottest albums or tracks they overlooked. But, even with winter fast approaching, there is still a chance to catch some great artists in a unique festival environment.

Keep reading... Show less

Talay's new tune will win points with those not shy of expressing their holiday joy with four-letter cusses.

Most Decembers, I don't get super excited by the prospect of sitting down and preparing a bunch of holiday cards for mailing. And I certainly do my best to avoid venturing anywhere in the vicinity of SantaCon, the bar crawl for a North Pole-themed mob. But for those who like their eggnog with a little extra something, the new tune from Talay may become your new rallying cry.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image