Karen Dalton knew how to make every song she sang her own, imprinting an R&B classic such as “When a Man Loves a Woman” or a traditional song such as “Katie Cruel” with her signature tender resignation, her laconic weariness, her brightly inventive modulations, and her breathy delivery and phrasing.
As Lenny Kaye writes in the liner notes that accompany this new edition of her classic 1971 album In My Own Time, we can hear in Dalton’s vocals “the jazz of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, the immersion of Nina Simone, the Appalachian keen of Jean Ritchie, [and] the R&B and country that had to seep in as she made her way to New York.” Bob Dylan wrote in his memoir Chronicles Volume One that Dalton was his favorite singer in the Village, for “Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed.”
The album opens with “Something on Your Mind,” an airy psychedelic folk song shimmering with fiddles and steel and Dalton’s soaring vocals, which themselves fly as high as the swooping and wheeling fiddle runs. Dalton’s version slides into the slipstream of the British folk-jazz tradition of Pentangle, and the instrumental ending of the song bears sonic resemblance to the strains of “It’s a Beautiful Day.”
Dalton’s sultry take on Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” elongates the phrasing of the verses, riding on a bed of swaying horns and dazzling steel runs and prolonging the ache and desire of the lyrics. In this song it’s as if Blossom Dearie meets Dusty Springfield meets Janis Joplin to sing Percy Sledge.
Dalton’s sprightly banjo rolls lay the foundation of the old-time ballad “Katie Cruel,” while fiddles dart in and out of this reeling minor-chord song. Dalton vamps her way through the Marvin Gaye classic “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”; Dalton’s take sounds sort of like what might happen if Billie Holiday met up with Lesley Gore to do a version of this song: the up tempo swinging pop soul of Gore with the jazz delivery and phrasing of Holiday. “Take Me” unfolds languorously as a slow burning blues jazz, with Dalton’s sultry vocals teasingly flowing over caressing piano rolls, while the choogling “One Night of Love” rollicks and rolls along a swinging bluesy groove. The shimmering “Are You Leaving for the Country” showcases Dalton’s command of modulation and jazz delivery.
The super deluxe contains alternate takes and previously unreleased live versions of some of the songs. For example, this edition has a live version of “Are You Leaving for the Country,” recorded live at The Montreux Golden Rose Pop Festival on May 1, 1971. According to the Light in the Attic Records press release, the super deluxe edition also features, among other things: two 180-gram, 45 RPM LPs cut from new 2021 transfers and pressed at RTI, featuring bonus tracks from the original album sessions; one 12” 180-gram, 45 RPM EP featuring Live at The Montreux Golden Rose Pop Festival (May 1971) audio, newly remastered (2021) and previously unreleased in any format, and a B-side that includes a beautiful etching of Karen, illustrated by renowned artist Jess Rotter. Plus, you’ll find a CD of all 19 tracks and a 20-page booklet featuring unseen photos and liner notes by Lenny Kaye, with contributions from Nick Cave and Devendra Banhart.
Karen Dalton was one of our great musical treasures, and she deserves to be better known. This new super deluxe edition of In My Own Time is a welcome gift, for not only does it introduce Karen Dalton to a new generation of listeners, but it also illustrates the range of her artistry.
In My Own Time (50th Anniversary Edition) is available HERE.