Karen Dalton 

Green Rocky Road

Singer Karen Dalton (1938-1993) was a part of the same early 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene that incubated the talents Bob Dylan and Fred Neil (to name only two). Though she garnered adulation from fans and peers, Dalton never achieved anything close to fame in her lifetime. Some hindsight-ers put it down to the fact that Dalton wasn't comfortable in the structured environs of recording studios, that she was an interpretive talent instead of a songwriter, and/or her voice was far too "distinctive" for mass popular consumption.

Dalton's voice has some of the deceptively mellow phrasing of iconic jazz singer Billie Holiday, and on Green Rocky Road, she often has the unpolished, virtually feral intonation of a singer from the Appalachian mountains. Road is a collection of home recordings from circa 1962-63, presenting Dalton au naturel, accompanying herself on acoustic twelve-string guitar and banjo. (It's unclear whether other musicians are present.) The sound quality, naturally, isn't up to today's digital-sheen standards, but that's not really important — the raw, spare tone only adds to this disc's stark, out-of-time tenor. Green Rocky Road sounds as if it could've been recorded three weeks ago in a basement by one of the freak-folk posse or sixty years ago in a Southern hollow. All the tunes are traditional — a cowboy on-the-range song ("Whoopie Ti-Yi-Yi"); a chilling, haunting tale of obsession and pain that sounds like an ancient British Isles ballad ("Katie Cruel"); and a mixture of blues and what might be called folk-rock if the guitars were electric ("In the Evening").

If you're new to Dalton and like your songs to have more standard-style polish and presentation, you are directed to one of her studio albums (such as the excellent reissue In My Own Time). However, if the skeletal ambience of Faun Fables, Jandek, and/or Palace/Bonnie Prince Billy are your mood escalators, get onto this Rocky Road asap. (Delmore Recordings)

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