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Review: Karen Dalton, 1966

Karen Dalton
[Delmore (2012)]

Karen Dalton is a darling of the freak folk movement, revered by musicians as disparate as Nick Cave and Devendra Banhart. Even though she only did two studio albums, released in 1969 and 1971, her cult status prompted the release of two other casual recordings of gigs, similar to this disk, since her death in 1993.

This collection, 1966, consists of 14 newly unearthed reel-to-reel tape recordings by Dalton from that long-gone year, recorded with her husband Richard Tucker in the remote Colorado cabin they shared. The recordings sound as fragile as Dalton’s persona is reputed to have been, with the descriptions “wispy” and “shadowy” springing to mind, with “haunting” right behind. The timing of the guitar and banjo backing is wobbly but insistent, as are Dalton’s fractured but still somehow strong vocals. She does several songs each by her compatriots Fred Neil and Tim Hardin, and her version of “Reason to Believe” is very gut wrenching in its simplicity. And “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” a song most often done as a romp, turns into a slow-burning mystery.

Although 1966 isn’t the place to start if you’ve just come under Dalton’s sway, if you’re already entranced, it’ll certainly give you the shivers.

—Jeffery R. Lindholm (Montpelier, VT)


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