Music

Karen Dalton: Green Rocky Road

Folk singer Karen Dalton had a voice closer to Charley Patton than Sandy Denny, a unique voice that most people probably either love or hate.


Karen Dalton

Green Rocky Road

Contributors: Karen Dalton, Joe Loop
Label: Delmore
US Release Date: 2008-06-10
UK Release Date: 2008-04-21
Amazon
iTunes

This is Karen Dalton recorded to two-tracks by Joe Loop more than 40 years ago: arguably a portrait of the artist as a young, pure, authentic folk singer who would mingle at her own pace with the urban folk revivalists. Now, I don’t give a bo weevil’s ass in an art gallery about that stuff, so let me say straight off that I prefer the rounded edges of her 1971 album In My Own Time where her voice is encased in a jazz and blues inflected folk rock setting courtesy of Harvey Brooks, Richard Bell, and Amos Garrett (amongst others). If you don’t believe me try listening to the versions of “Katie Cruel” on the two records. However, as a glimpse of the triumph of an artist with nothing to hide behind Green Rocky Road is a snapshot nonpareil. Dalton’s skill mocks this nakedness on an album that is not so much “unplugged” as “completely unadorned”. Her talent for rhythm and feeling cuts a swathe through the fragile chaff of modern alt-folk. Highlights include the splendidly hypnotic “Ribbon Row” and “Nottingham Town”. She doesn't quite deliver a convincingly coarse eroticism on “Skillet Good and Greasy”, but Dalton could sing the equivalent of the phone book and I’d dig it (as her version of “Whoopee Ti Yi Yo” demonstrates).

When Dalton’s voice naturally escapes a certain level, though, it can be as rough as a foghorn blast shattering a window. Not everyone will care for the effect but the power is undeniable. Nick Cave calls her his favorite female blues singer and he should know a sound that could rock the walls of Jericho. Indeed, when Bob Dylan made it to Greenwich Village in the 1960s, Karen Dalton’s was the voice that he felt stood out. It is not difficult to suspect that he heard in her the triumphantly imperfect tones of defiance and conviction that others have often heard in him.

Dalton has been compared a thousand times with Billie Holiday. That may be for the perception of physical beauty, the reality of heroin use, or the undeniably seductive world-weary weight that both project. That said, I doubt Holiday could match Dalton on either the 12-string or banjo and I find Dalton’s missing teeth pretty charming! Seriously, though, Dalton reminds me more of Tim Buckley or Vashti Bunyan. All three have pipes and phrasing that people either love or run a mile from. She also brings to mind the cult of Nico, in that people (especially men) will always look at her picture and mistakenly imagine that their love could have saved her from a cruel world, or from herself. The Band’s Richard Manuel is said to have written “Katie’s Been Gone” from The Basement Tapes about Dalton. If that sounds glamorous, then her death (in 1993) after dealing with the effects of HIV for at least eight years, is probably less so.

In the blizzard of reissues, re-masters and box set presentations, it can be hard for both cynics and innocents to know what to trust. Sometimes it seems like anyone who made a disc that sold negligibly more than 15 years ago is now a legend and anyone who sold even less is a cult. Obviously the reissue of Karen Dalton’s material is not a coincidence; it reflects the business recognition of a climate potentially favorable to certain sounds, for folk’s sake. Meanwhile, over on “her“MySpace page some Italian photographer suggests that she “keep in touch”. Sometimes, though, an accidental or timely invitation should be accepted with good grace. This is a fine reissue and re-master. Put any misgivings aside and check out Karen Dalton, here, on Cotton Eyed Joe, and In My Own Time.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.