Saturday, November 22, 2008


Le duo TEPPAZ & NAZ auteur des musiques des westerns languedociens d'Alain Guiraudie sortira au printemps 2009 sur Megaphone son 1er album studio, VOLK, composé de reprises à deux guitares très sèches de standards
des années 50 à nos jours

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


One of the endlessly repeated and therefore defining stories of Karen Dalton's career is that she hated recording so much that she had to be tricked into laying down the songs on her 1969 debut, It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best. That may be true, but by now it's legend, portraying the contrary Okie as a true folk artist who rejected the commercial enterprise of making and selling music. It's not that cut and dry, of course: It seems she felt uncomfortable only with studios and practiced performances. In his liner notes for Koch Records' 1997 reissue of her debut, Peter Stampfel recalls that when Dalton was scheduled to sing harmonies on a Holy Modal Rounders album, she spent hours psyching herself up for the task, at one point even ripping out a bathroom sink.

Recording-- or, perhaps more specifically, being recorded-- apparently didn't trouble Dalton very much. Since her rediscovery in 2006 via Light in the Attic's reissue of her second and final album, In My Own Time, two recordings from the early 1960s have surfaced: The first, the two-disc Cotton Eyed Joe, is a recording of a live performance at the Attic in Boulder, Colorado, captured by Joe Loop. Released less than a year later, Green Rocky Road is a more intimate set that Dalton recorded herself at home on the same reel-to-reel tapes. Acting as vocalist, accompanist, engineer, and producer, she overdubs guitar over her banjo tracks and even invites guitarist Richard Tucker and Loop to play on it. You can even hear the phone ringing and Dalton talking to her mother.

Green Rocky Road is a much different listening experience than Cotton Eyed Joe, which she performed specifically for the small crowd around her, who listen raptly and applaud heartily. If that release is public, then Green Rocky Road is pointedly private. Here Dalton entertains no one but herself. In addition to singing traditional ballads like "Nottingham Town" and "Skillet Good and Greasy", she runs through pensive versions of "Ribbon Bow" and "Katie Cruel", which would appear later on her first and second albums respectively. They have all the informality of someone thinking aloud, which suits her signature vocals perfectly. "Ribbon Bow" sounds careful and simmering, with Dalton reaching down into her lower register to sound uncharacteristically foreboding-- an approach that adds a bit of malice to the lyrics. Her takes on "Katie Cruel" and "In the Evening" (which also appears on Cotton Eyed Joe) show just how malleable she considered these songs, open for any possible inflection or interpretation.

Dalton's primary accompaniment, as always, is her trusty banjo, which she plays in a clawfinger style to give these songs a distinctive style that fits her free-floating vocals nicely. It rings out brightly on the cowboy song "Whoopee Ti Yi Yo" and the lover's lament "Red Rockin' Chair", and she adds dissonant notes to make "Nottingham Town" sound like a raga. In overdubbing, she seems to consider tempos and time signatures almost as restricting as a real studio. Opener "Green Rocky Road" overlays an acoustic guitar over her banjo, but the two instruments don't always mesh, lending the song an unrehearsed emotional push and pull.

There's no telling what purpose she intended for these recordings, or if the mere act of setting these songs to tape was the extent of her endeavor. Possibly she might have planned to record over them, or give them away, or store them in some dusty attic box for another generation. Whatever the case, Green Rocky Road stands as a particularly personal statement, a career marker that shows where she was and what songs obsessed her at a particular moment. That we can listen to these songs nearly half a century later is certainly a benefit, but it never feels like her primary concern.

Stephen M. Deusner

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Monday, May 5, 2008



The June 10 release of Green Rocky Road fills in the lacunae in the rightly romanticized mythos of the late folk music legend Karen Dalton and goes a long way in clarifying her crucial role in the evolution of modern acoustic music from “folk” source materials. The only formal studio recordings she made during her lifetime — released in 1969 and 1971 respectively — were thoroughly dissected upon their recent re-release. As wonderful as these albums were, they captured Karen in relatively awkward circumstances. Green Rocky Road, along with last year’s Cotton Eyed Joe, provide a rare glimpse of Karen Dalton circa 1962 and 1963 at her most pure, most powerful, and at ease and document far better her unique artistry that profoundly influenced the likes of Fred Neil, Tim Hardin and Bob Dylan.

Green Rocky Road is as close as we’ll ever get to hearing the record Karen Dalton would have made in 1963. Discovered on the same reel-to-reel tapes that yielded the live performances comprising the Cotton Eyed Joe release, were nine home recordings of Dalton left alone, with no one watching, no audience to please. Accompanied solely by her own sturdy banjo picking and 12 string strumming, her deep blue, smoky-throated singing evokes the voices and faces of past lives lived – the broken-backed pioneer, the coalminer black with shadow, the stained fingers of the slave, the prostitute…the dead and forgotten. Karen was perhaps the last true folk singer and that’s the bases of the potent appeal of her enigmatic art and of her commercial failure during her too-brief lifetime.

In recent years, the critical community has begun to recognize the difference between “folk singers” and the folk revivalists. The latter were mainly middle class fans of the former and were inspired by their styles and traditional repertoires and consciously attempted to preserve and promulgate all that. During the transitional period of the early 1960’s when folk singers and revivalists shared stages and came into regular contact with each other the myth of “cultural purity” began to develop. There was a romantic notion that the rural folk singers had largely created their styles, their material and audience base working in total isolation from mainstream culture. Thereby they had maintained an integrity and puissance unsullied by commercialism, cultural relativism and so on. The conceit is that they were “noble savages.” The truth of the matter is now being acknowledged. Performers like Leadbelly, Jimmie Rodgers, Mississippi John Hurt, the Carter Family and so on were in fact sophisticated music aficionados with catholic tastes who did not disdain the mainstream and cosmopolitan at all and were influenced by it. To meet the expectations of their new found audiences however, many of these performers consciously narrowed their set lists down to the most antique and down-home numbers they knew.

Enter Karen Dalton who was an exemplar of this tradition but whose youth and fashion-model beauty led her to be viewed by New York’s revivalists as a peer. Whereas most of the folk singers the revivalists experienced in the 60’s were either wizened oldsters or seemed like exotic anachronisms, Karen appeared to be one of their own. She managed to exist outside their preconceptions of the museum-piece folk they were familiar with.

Karen took the opportunity to play music just as she pleased, very much part of the authentic “folk” process of transmission and translation that had operated in this country for centuries. Like her predecessors in this tradition she drew on whatever material caught her fancy whether it was a farm laborer’s song she’d learned as a child or a Ray Charles’ tune she’d heard on the radio the day before and every style. While the foundation was rural home-brewed music that base was informed by jazz, pop, big band blues - the music that Leadbelly and his generation of folk singers did not perform for the revivalist audience. The synthesis she produced was perplexing, mysterious and excitingly innovative to the folks involved in New York’s revivalist scene who were primarily playing traditional songs as faithful to the version they’d first heard on Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music collection or in some hushed coffee house as possible. Or were just in the early stages of recasting some of the lyrics to those sorts of songs. Within a few years the likes of Tim Hardin, Fred Neil and Bob Dylan would have evolved radically new styles starting from the folk base and gone on to varying degrees of fortune and fame.

Meanwhile Karen continued to exercise her artistry via her interpretation and revision of pre-existing material rather than writing “original material” – that’s not what folk singers did. As folk revivalism moved towards more mainstream incarnations and folk rock and found greater and greater commercial acceptance folk singers per se were largely left behind or marginalized, playing coffee houses and college campuses and re-recording songs from their youth. And Dalton was left behind with them, her case seeming just a bit stranger in that she had seemed like an integral part of the revivalists’ circles that evolving artistically and commercially at an ever-hastening pace.

By the time Karen recorded her first two studio albums in the late 60’s and early 70’s the musical world had changed radically and her own oeuvre was an anomalous anachronism. She and her more successful friends in the music business made valiant attempts to build bridges to the new rock audience that’d arisen trying to put her amazing voice and playing in a contemporary context on It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best and In My Own Time. Both records are entirely enchanting and dazzlingly original. But they couldn’t present Karen on her own terms like Green Rocky Road does.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008