Thursday, 13 August 2015

"It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best" by KAREN DALTON (2006 Megaphone CD/DVD Set) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…As I Hoped It Would Be…"

American Folk/Blues Singer KAREN DALTON (a Texas born part-Cherokee woman) only recorded 2 LPs in her tragically short but eventful life (she died aged 56 in 1993) – "It's So Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best" in 1969 on Capitol ST-271 and her follow up album "It's My Own Time" in 1971 on Just Sunshine Records PAS 6008. The 2nd LP actually received a UK release in May 1971 on Paramount Records SPFL 271 but is incredibly rare - listed in Guides at £50+ (if you can find a copy). Neither album produced 7" singles...

A sensitive soul - apparently she abhorred recording but was just too good to be left alone. Encouraged by other musicians who knew someone talented and unique when they saw and heard it - Dalton may have been terrified of the pressure - but the recording equipment loved what it was taping. Why? Dalton had the most extraordinary voice - a croaking gravely thing - sort of Janis Joplin meets Mary Coughlin meets Madeleine Peyroux with the ghost of Billie Holiday lingering in the background somewhere. Like a female Leon Redbone – she was the kind of woman who sounded like she gargled gravel for breakfast with a side order of sandpaper. Dalton was name-checked and rated by Dylan, Fred Neil and Tim Hardin no less (Dylan gigged with her). When she sang it felt like her vocals chords were about to croak into submission at any second - but that deep guttural well also lent a sort of pleading tenderness to her phrasing – a very touching singing weapon when she got her aching chords around a good song. And that’s where this superb twofer comes in…

USA released in July 2006 (licensed from Capitol Records) - "It's So Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best" by KAREN DALTON on Megaphone CD MEGA 10 (Barcode 0666017138824) is a CD and DVD reissue in a card digipak.

1. Little Bit Of Rain
2. Sweet Substitute
3. Ribbon Bow
4. I Love You More Than Words Can Say
5. In The Evening (It's So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best)
6. Blues On The Ceiling [Side 2]
7. It Hurst Me Too
8. How Did The Feeling Feel To You
9. Right, Wrong Or Ready
10. Down On The Street (Don’t You Follow Me Down)

1. God Bless The Child
2. It Hurts Me Too
3. Little Bit Of Rain
4. Blues Jumped The Rabbit

The eagle-eyed will have noticed two Fred Neil covers – "Blues On The Ceiling" and the LP opener "Little Bit Of Rain" - both from his magnificent "Bleecker And MacDougal" album of 1965 on Elektra Records. Neil's writing style and deep-as-an-ocean vocals suited Dalton and she makes both of his songs her own (Neil even commented later that if he was asked who wrote the song "Blues On The Ceiling" - he would say she did).

Another great example of her re-working material by other people is Tim Hardin's "While You're On Your Way" (on his "Tim Hardin 2" album from 1966 on Verve) which she calls "How Did The Feeling Feel To You" on this album. It's as lovely as Sixties Folk gets – her voice - the lilting softly strummed acoustic accompaniment – what a fabulous song (lyrics from it title this review). I often put into a CD shuffle play at work and it always brings customers to the counter asking - "Who's this!"

Not surprisingly she gets Bluesy on several cuts - Jelly Roll Morton’s "Sweet Substitute" has the acoustic Steel Guitar of Dan Hankin and the warm Bass of Harvey Brooks sound utterly gorgeous in the Transfer and Remaster. The Traditional "Ribbon Bow" is arranged by her and feels like a Joni Mitchell love song the great Canadian would be proud of. Written by Eddie Floyd and Booker T Jones (of The MG’s) for Otis Redding - Karen takes it down real slow for her version of "I Love You More Than Words Can Say" which again has that lovely sloppiness she exuded sounding like she's drunk with her acoustic guitar on a barstool at 2 a.m. in some local dive. The Tampa Red and Elmore James classic "It Hurts Me Too" is again tamed - lurching  along a Bluesy Acoustic towpath one sunny morning.

Like Judee Sill on Asylum Records in 1972 (see my review for "Abracadabra: The Asylum Years" 2CD set on Rhino) - Dalton was a romantic and emotionally exposed on songs like the title cut that ends Side 1 (her twelve-string playing on this is so sweet). Major Wiley penned "Right, Wrong Or Ready" which has an uplifting lilt like 70's Labi Siffre or 60's Nilsson. It ends on Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter's "Down On The Street" where the guitars (acoustic and electric) soft shuffle against each other (what a vocal too)…

The rough and tumble near 30-minute DVD is more a home movie that a bunch of song promos. Utterly fascinating - you stare at her as she plays her songs and when she opens her mouth - you still can’t believe what comes out. What a find and it only adds icing to an already very tasty cake.

“It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You Best” is a Sunday-morning coming down kind of album - lazy, soft on the mind, easy on the ear, languishing in the background as you mop up the dirty dishes in the sink from the night before as she sings “…Never get out of these Blues alive…” And you’re thinking - damn - she’s probably right…

Dalton was rescued from the streets in the early months of 1993 by Boston Folk-Singer Peter Walker where she'd been apparently living homeless with allegedly drug-related Aids. He was with her when she died a few months later... 

Unsung heroes and heroines - albums you need in your home - effortlessly cool - take your pick. And the kicker is that the 2nd LP "In My Own Time" from 1971 was even better. Be with the angels kid...

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