Karen Dalton

Cotton Eyed Joe


Released October 23rd, 2007

2xCD+DVD out of print

Tall, beautiful, and haunted by hard drugs and alcohol, a situation that left her homeless and nearly toothless at her death in New York in 1993, Karen Dalton never found commercial success in her lifetime, but her extremely small recording legacy (just two albums, 1969's It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best and 1971's In My Own Time, and now this double-disc live set from 1962) reveals a maverick and singular musician utterly unlike anyone else on the folk (or any other) scene. Possessing an eerie, riveting voice and vocal style that could almost be called harrowing if it didn't carry so much of the real world in its emotional depths, Dalton's folk-blues repertoire consisted of odd bits of traditional fare (which she generally took in directions only she could have imagined), an assortment of Fred Neil songs (the artist she most resembles emotionally), Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" (Dalton's vocal phrasing has recalled Holiday's for many listeners), and assorted R&B songs, often those made famous by Ray Charles, which she stripped down and took into startling new places. Accompanying herself on a Gibson 12-string acoustic guitar or her trademark long-neck banjo, Dalton performed live sets that were tense, draining affairs, leaving little doubt that this was a woman who sang from a place few others had ever even glimpsed. This remarkable live set was taped in October of 1962 at the Attic coffeehouse in Boulder, CO, by Joe Loop, and it unveils as a stilled and stark reading of Dalton's musical story, offering her eerie and moody version of Ray Charles' "It's Alright," an absolutely haunting take on the old fiddle tune "Cotton Eyed Joe," a real-as-it-gets rendition of Fred Neil's "Blues on the Ceiling," and a stunning run-through of the traditional (and for all practical purposes, Dalton's signature tune) "Katie Cruel," all of it done with the unhurried pace of an intense all-night conversation. Dalton has said that one doesn't sing songs, one speaks them, and that philosophy helps explain her idiosyncratic vocal style, which shifts lines into unexpected patterns, mimicking, in a way, the pace and flow of solo speech, although make no mistake, what Dalton does is singing, and singing done with a hushed urgency, and in a way, it is more like a free-flight jazz horn break on an old blues standard than anything else. Dalton's approach isn't for everyone, and this is far from an album to throw on at a party -- the barely veiled emotional power of these vocal performances is much more likely to produce a stunned silence than any kind of levity. The really good news is that this two-disc package now doubles the amount of Karen Dalton recordings available in the world, and it adds an additional DVD with videos of Dalton singing "God Bless the Child," "It Hurts Me Too," Fred Neil's "A Little Bit of Rain," and the traditional "Blues Jumped the Rabbit" in New York in 1969 and Summerville in 1970. She was one of a kind, and the real tragedy is that people are only discovering that now some dozen years and more after her death. —AllMusic