Karen Dalton – “In My Own Time” CD (Light in the Attic)

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I’ve heard and read Dalton’s name many times, typically described as an iconoclastic, influential and self-destructive folkie. I wasn’t prepared for the raw pain and power of her voice, something between an ancient black woman and the raunchy confidence of a street corner tough. On this 1971 album, midwived by bassist/producer Harvey Brooks at Bearsville, for the first and only time Dalton got the benefit of a sympathetic and suitably pushy collaborator who drew out her strengths as an interpreter and crafted big, sexy arrangements to cradle her big, sexy and terrible vulnerable voice. The stylistically diverse set veers from blues to folk to honky tonk country. It includes strong covers of two too-familiar songs (‘When A Man Loves A Woman,” “How Sweet It Is”), but if they weren’t already standards, Dalton’s gut-wrenching interpretations might have made them so. Kicking off with a beautiful take on Dino Valenti’s “Something On Your Mind,” with its late Velvet Underground arrangement and the hushed, cracked yearning of her voice, the album also soars on “Katie Cruel,” a traditional tale of an unwanted stranger utterly inhabited by the singer. Generous notes from Lenny Kaye, Nick Cave and Devendra Banhart further laud Dalton, and place her in context as a continual deep underground influence on several generations of interesting artists. Hers is a voice that won’t please everyone