Karen Dalton-In My Own Time (1971)
My first exposure to Karen Dalton was the inclusion of “Katie Cruel” on an Oxford American music compilation. She sounded like a female Neil Young, singing a blues song filled with sorrow and regret. Her voice held more emotion than Billie Holiday. It was a beautiful piece of music, naturally making me want to seek out more from this mystery woman.
Turns out Karen Dalton was a kind of influential zelig all over the 60s Greenwich Village folk scene. She played at Cafe Wha?, performed with Fred Neil and Bob Dylan, and is the subject of the Dylan and The Band song “Katie’s Been Gone.” She was called the “folk singers answer to Billie Holiday” due to her soulful and pain-filled voice. She did covers of folk and motown songs, and made them completely her own. She was a legend in the scene until she suddenly disappeared from public view amid addictions to drugs and alcohol. In 1993 she finally turned up, collapsed on the streets of New York City, having been suffering from AIDS for the 8 years prior. She died too young, and only left two real albums of recorded material.
In My Own Time is Dalton’s second album, and is the highlight of her career. None of the ten songs on the album are originals, instead they’re all covers of soul or blues songs or new versions of traditional folk pieces, yet all of them sound like Dalton created them. Dalton mostly takes on more obscure material (like the aforementioned “Katie Cruel”), but also pops in a few familiar nuggets, like Percy Sledge’s “When a man loves a woman” and Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You”.
Dalton’s releases do not do justice for the career she had, and it’s a shame she never had a comeback later on, like so many of her contemporaries did. Thankfully In My Own Time can live on as her legacy.