Karen Dalton – It’s So Easy To Tell Who’s Go­ing To Love You The Best

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - Donal Di­neen

It’s eas­ily for­got­ten that there were singers and mu­si­cians cen­turies be­fore recorded sound ex­isted. The cap­tur­ing of the magic was the big-bang mo­ment: once it could be saved on to some­thing, it could be sold to some­one. Game on.

The op­por­tu­nity to cap­i­talise on some­thing that cre­ated such a sense of won­der in sen­si­tive hu­man ears sent both ap­pre­ci­a­tors and hus­tlers into rapid ac­tion. Mu­si­cians were at their mercy. The con­trol of mu­sic has largely been in the wrong hands for­ever.

You could see how re­pel­lent the busi­ness could be to artists. Karen Dalton was one such. She har­boured a rare gift but had no idea how to nur­ture it, mak­ing her ripe for ex­ploita­tion. She was brit­tle and brave in equal parts. Her mother was Chero­kee and al­ways slept out­side their house in Ok­la­homa. Even less is known about her Ir­ish father, save for the fact that his death in 1969 hit her hard and the husky aching in her voice on this record could well stem from that loss.

She was mar­ried twice and had two chil­dren while still a teenager. The move to New York was a break for free­dom. The folk cognoscenti of the Green­wich Vil­lage scene were smit­ten. Dy­lan and Fred Neil were acolytes. But Dalton was no moth to the flame. She re­treated and tried to keep the mu­sic cen­tral. Stu­dios, she ab­horred.

It was Fred Neil who tricked her into mak­ing this de­but record. He in­vited her to play a song of his and begged her to sing some more while pre­tend­ing the tape wasn’t run­ning. One of the great­est folk blues al­bums of all time was made un­know­ingly. It’s an un­in­ten­tional ro­man­tic twist in a sorry tale. The fail­ure of her sec­ond record In My Own Time in 1971 pre­cip­i­tated a rapid re­treat from the bright lights and a painful demise into the abyss.

Karen Dalton wasn’t meant for the world of the ty­coon. Her brush with it at least left us with ev­i­dence of her deeply soul­ful and dreamy way with a song. De­spite the cir­cum­stance, we are lucky this clan­des­tine magic was cap­tured.

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