KAREN DALTON: IN MY OWN TIME a doco by ROBERT YAPKOWITZ and RICHARD PEETE

 |   |  2 min read

Reason to Believe (from the posthumous album 1966)
KAREN DALTON: IN MY OWN TIME a doco by ROBERT YAPKOWITZ and RICHARD PEETE

"When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended solely for self-flagellation"   -- Truman Capote

Popular culture has never been short of cult figures to resurrect and Karen Dalton certainly qualified.

Just two studio albums in her lifetime – she died in 1993 age 55 – but a steady decline into obscurity, dependencies and Aids from the early Seventies.

A gifted and authentic folk-blues singer from Oklahoma (Irish father, Cherokee mother, Baptist family), she arrived in New York' Greenwich Village folk scene in the early Sixties as a twice-divorced 21-year old with two children born when she was 15 and 17.

She rejected middle-class values and expectations on women, and had lived a hard life by the time she arrived in the Village where she played the famous folk clubs (Cafe Wha?) alongside Bob Dylan (who famously wrote in his Chronicles she had a “voice like Billie Holiday’s and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed and went all the way with it”), Fred Neil and Joan Baez.

Her two albums were well received and she was acclaimed as wonderful interpreter of traditional folk and blues as well as songs by Woody Guthrie, Billie Holiday (she covered God Bless the Child), Tim Hardin, Ma Rainey and Motown soul.

She was talented, charismatic, bohemian, attractive and determined . . . but a reluctant singer of her own few songs, which perhaps hindered her career in the age when Dylan and originality were emerging as essential.

The times also changed by the time she began recording in the late Sixties. Folk-blues was yesterday's news.

She also rejected the idea of being an entertainer and a star, she self-sabotaged out of doubt, uncertainty and being temperamental . . . and she didn't like recording much.

53da833f8609b.imageSomewhat improbably this banjo and acoustic gutar player toured Europe with a small band . . .  opening for Santana.

It was the beginning of the decline and she slowly disappeared into drugs, drink, illness and cult status until a rediscovery of her small body of work in the past 20 years through the championing by Devendra Banhart, Nick Cave, folk singer Lucy J. Dalton (who adopted Karen's surname).

Lenny Kaye, Cave and Banhart contributed the liner notes for the 2006 reissue of her In My Own Time album of 71.

Karen Dalton: In My Own Time does a remarkable job of bringing her to life again through readings by Angel Olsen from Dalton's poetic and self-aware diaries (“I'm working on my own direction and destiny, not my mother's”), family photos and films, reminiscences by friends, lovers and her daughter Abralyn Baird and radio interviews. There is a surprising amount of live footage and the recently discovered home recordings from 1966.

Karen_Dalton___Still_5Musician and friend Peter Stampfel (Holy Modal Rounders) says Dalton was an authentic working class folk background, others had come to the music through political or intellectual inclination.

Cave says you you have to be prepared to go into her world which was a dark one.

In 2013 the heading on a Vice article read “The Most Tragically Beautiful Folk Singer You've Probably Never Heard”

There is an especially sad coda to her story in the final minutes of this thorough, engrossing resurrection of a cult figure.

.

Karen Dalton's album In My Own Time was reissued some years ago and was reviewed at Elsewhere here.

.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Film at Elsewhere articles index

MOONAGE DAYDREAM, a film by BRETT MORGEN

MOONAGE DAYDREAM, a film by BRETT MORGEN

A decade ago the international touring exhibition David Bowie Is posited that Bowie displayed many aspects: David Bowie Is dance, fashion, music, art . . . He was a human palimpsest,... > Read more

20,000 DAYS  ON EARTH, a film by IAIN FORSYTH and JANE POLLARD (Madman DVD)

20,000 DAYS ON EARTH, a film by IAIN FORSYTH and JANE POLLARD (Madman DVD)

During a recent Q&A session after a screening of this film about him, Nick Cave mentioned in passing that a sequence involving Bad Seed/Dirty Three/Grinderman band member Warren Ellis wasn't... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

KEITH JARRETT: THE MELODY AT NIGHT, WITH YOU (1999). Distilling genius

KEITH JARRETT: THE MELODY AT NIGHT, WITH YOU (1999). Distilling genius

These days, Keith Jarrett gets as much space, sometimes more, in jazz encyclopaedias as the great saxophonist John Coltrane.  That irritates some people, it would be like Van Morrison... > Read more

Sa Dingding: Harmony (Go East)

Sa Dingding: Harmony (Go East)

The debut album Alive of two years ago by this photogenic Chinese singer was a mish-mash of electro-pop, slightly twee vocals, Chinese folk, new age blandness and deadening over-production.... > Read more