Tuesday , September 22 2020
Some recently discovered tapes give a glimpse into the musical mind of a talented but forgotten folk artist.

Music Review: Karen Dalton – Green Rocky Road

Karen Dalton, (1938-1993), was a folk singer who was part of the Greenwich Village scene in the early 1960’s. Bob Dylan called Dalton; "the female Billie Holiday,” because of the tone and texture of her vocals, but despite her musical relationships with him and Fred Neil, she would largely remain undiscovered. She was a primitive folk artist and did not write her own material, so by the mid-sixties the likes of Dylan, Phil Ochs, Peter, Paul & Mary and others had made her sound dated.

Karen Dalton also hated to record. She would only release two albums during her lifetime. It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best, released in 1969, and the brilliant In My Time, released in 1971, were both commercial failures. The last twenty years of her life were a downward spiral of drug abuse, missed concerts, and broken relationships. She would be found dead on the streets of New York City in 1993.

Some lost recordings by Karen Dalton were unearthed several years ago.  The album, Cotton Eyed Joe, was released in 2007 and featured a live concert recorded in 1962. Also contained on this rediscovered tape were the nine songs that comprise Dalton’s latest release, Green Rocky Road.

Green Rocky Road is not for the faint of heart. She does not sing about heroes and focuses on the hard side of life.  The songs were recorded on a basic two track recorder.  It was just Dalton’s voice, her 12 string acoustic guitar, and a long neck banjo. She did put some effort into the recordings as she overdubbed the guitar sound on top of the banjo. What Karen Dalton had in mind for these tracks will probably never be known.

Dalton would stay close to her folk roots. The old western song, “Green Rocky Road,” is given an authentic and simple presentation. The traditional folk songs, “Nottingham Town” and “Skillet Good and Greasy” are fine examples of American folk music circa 1962. The old classic “In The Evening” is given a fine and ultimately unique interpretation.

Today, Karen Dalton is remembered as a fringe folk artist which is sad considering the level of her talent. She seemed to have been in the right place at the right time and had talented friends, yet remains a face from the distant past. Hopefully Green Rocky Road will restore some luster to her career and enable her to find a place as an early and important figure in the field of American folk music.

About David Bowling

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