Release Date: Jan 24, 2012
Record label: Delmore Recording Society
Genre(s): Folk, Folk Revival, Traditional Folk
Despite being a mainstay on the New York folk scene in the early 1960s and a friend of Bob Dylan, Fred Neil and Tim Hardin, Karen Dalton didn’t leave an extensive catalog of music. In her lifetime, she released only two albums, one of which she had to be virtually tricked into recording. She vastly preferred the stage to the studio and the porch to either.
Picture the great American folk artists of the 1960s and 70s sitting for a group portrait; Karen Dalton's there, but her figure's a blur, flitting restlessly out of frame. Dalton hated recording and felt at best ambivalent about performing in front of strangers (she much preferred playing for friends, on porches and in living rooms), which means that although she's got one of those voices that gets talked about in hushed, reverent tones by everyone from Bob Dylan to Devendra Banhart, she preferred to sit out the kind of rituals that secure a person a snug spot in the canon. She didn't don face paint and a gypsy costume and hit the road with the Rolling Thunder Revue, she didn't dance The Last Waltz under Scorsese's spotlights, and-- years after her flight from Greenwich Village to Colorado-- she's present on the Basement Tapes only as the elusive subject of Richard Manuel's beguiled plea: "Dear Katie, if you can hear me…/ How much longer will you be gone?" Dalton has a Mona Lisa voice: it gestures toward a whole universe of unknowable things, and the way it makes notes curl up at the corners seems to suggest-- no matter how sad the song-- that its keeper is slyly smiling to herself about something you'll never quite comprehend.
For decades, the legend of the late folksinger Karen Dalton rested on the two studio albums she released between 1969 and 1971. Dalton was all but forgotten by the time she passed away in 1993, her music career long behind her, but posthumous interest in her work dovetailed nicely with the archival spelunking that resulted in Delmore Recordings' release of previously unheard Dalton tapes. Following up on their release of a 1962 Dalton recording, the label offered up the appropriately titled 1966.
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.
Roots folk doesn’t get more organic than this. Recorded in the titular year on a reel to reel tape deck in a remote Colorado cabin without running water, or even an address, and never meant for public consumption, this is the purest music available from Dalton. She was an under-the-radar folk legend who seldom played live and whose two official studio albums never quite captured her homespun charm.