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Karen Dahlstrom, Gem State

Karen Dahlstrom
Gem State
[Self-released (2011)]

This might be only an EP, but Karen Dahlstrom has found and done proud a sorely neglected American folk song: the west coast miner. Although the last seventy years has seen plenty of stories told about Appalachian miners (thanks of course to Merle Travis and the persistence of workers’ rights abuses by coal companies to the present day), the gold rush stories have mostly been relegated to “Off to California,” which doesn’t even have words though most people would recognize it when they hear it.

Dahlstrom’s voice is an easy but strong alto, and the music is pure acoustic eastern folk Americana. She’s written five songs for the album, and they’re all very strong in their own right and manage o be quite different from each other. “The Miner’s Bride” starts off the album with a story of a woman leaving her home for the rocky mountains:

A cold wind blows through my windowpane
As we ride through the dusty plain
Snow will fall on the mountainside
When I become a miner’s bride

“Galena” is an extremely beautiful waltz that tells the story of one of the … women … found in the mining camps, who leads the men to give up their wives to pursue her. Things change up again with “Starling,” a steady, relaxed stomp, and “Streets of Pocatello,” an acapella story of the badassery that kept the people of the old west alive:

Oh the Devil clapped me on the back
When I was nigh thirteen
Dyed my eyes from blue to black
And he made me hard and mean

The last song, “One More Time,” though, has no specific time and place. It’s simply a very beautiful love song.

Highly recommended. You can stream the album on her website.

Dahlstrom also plays in the band Bobtown. I can pretty heartily recommend them, too, after hearing this:


[Edit: The player is being fussy. Here’s the raw link if it doesn’t appear: http://soundcloud.com/bobtown/my-body-is-a-cage-bobtown]

—Jack Hunter

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3 comments on “Karen Dahlstrom, Gem State

  1. Where else but Driftwood Magazine could one expect to find directions to material this independent yet communal, of such historical significance yet totally torn from today’s trials involving Massey Coal and the last miner tragedy in West Virginia or Kentucky (increasingly in China and Australia)? Phil Ochs’s “Hazard, Kentucky” was the time on the clock and Karen Dahlstom’s GEM STATE is the west coast take on a miner’s time off the mother lode. Play these Dahlstrom sketches with Dylan’s and the Wilderness Family’s “Days of ’49.”

  2. I just get misty when I hear stuff like that. Its the tradition of the tradition, I just don’t know any other way to put it. Thanks Driftwood, and especially you Jack for all you do. You just keep on giving me new inspiration.

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