Great Albums: 49 - It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best (Karen Dalton, 1969)
Following a snippet in some music review or other, which described Karen Dalton as a white Billie Holliday, I found a copy of her debut album, put it on and ended up playing it half a dozen times in a row. I don't really understand the Billie comparisons, or the suggestion that some might find her voice difficult to listen to. Like a quieter Janis Joplin who *really* liked a ciggie, or a half-cut bar singer slurring wonderfully into her drink, every track is a mix of blues and folk, with a bit of country thrown in for good measure. It feels to me like an entire hippy commune turned into a series of songs, something reinforced by my later discovery that every song on the album is a cover version (of tracks written by the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Leadbelly and Fred Neil).
I say later discovery because I had no suspicions that they weren't all originals, so completely do they feel like the singer's songs. On the best tracks - 'A Little Bit Rain', 'Ribbon Bow', 'Sweet Substitute' - the weary, druggy voice is better suited to mood and lyrics than pretty much any other singer I can imagine. The best track of all though is the one which feels slightly out of place, the 'proper' blues 'Blues on the Celing' - though it's horribly ironic that the refrain 'I'll never get out of thse blues alive' proved to be true.
Sadly, though Karen Dalton lived until 1993, she only recorded one more (more popular, but inferior) album and succumbed to AIDS after to a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse. This album though is a better epitath than any numbe rof more prolific singers have ever managed.
Dalton singing 'Hurts me Too' live
Labels: 50 albums