The cultist's cult singer of the 1960s New York folk scene, the late Karen Dalton was a wilful, contrary figure. She loathed the formality of the studio, recording only this 1969 debut, now given a welcome re-release, plus one other album. Dalton wrote no original material but was a stupendous, visceral interpreter of folk and blues classics. Fred Neil's Little Bit of Rain, her sultry croon sounds about to dissolve with woe, while her readings of Jelly Roll Mortin's Sweet Substitute and Leadbelly's Down on the Street (Don't You Follow Me Down) ache with a sumptuous melancholy. Dalton died in 1993, and this striking album is an eloquent testament.
by Ian Gittins
It’s So Hard To Tell spans generations of classic American songwriting (Led Belly, Jelly Roll Morton, and Tim Hardin) and with Dalton’s unsurpassed interpretive depth and emotional range, it’s no surprise that artists from Fred Neil to Nick Cave have sung Dalton’s praises over the years. Even the likes of Bob Dylan have fallen under her spell, recalling the singer’s illuminating presence on the New York music scene during the pair’s formative Greenwich Village days: “My favorite singer in the place was Karen Dalton. She had a voice like Billie Holiday’s and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed.” But championing endorsements aside, all you have to do is drop the needle on the grooves to understand.
World weary and filled with the blues, Dalton’s tragic life story was a rocky road. While no longer with us in the physical, her growing musical presence is stronger than ever and worthy of re-examination by the converted and uninitiated alike. Selling poorly at the time of release, original vinyl copies of It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best have all but vanished while bootleg internet rips take away all the soul. Dim the lights and turn that stereo up, Karen Dalton will turn your living room into private concert, an intimate performance you will never forget.
1. Little Bit Of Rain (Fred Neil) - 2:30
2. Sweet Substitute (Jelly Roll Morton) - 2:40
3. Ribbon Bow (Traditional Adapted By Karen Dalton) - 2:55
4. I Love You More Than Words Can Say (Eddie Floyd, Booker T. Jones) - 3:30
5. In The Evening (It's So Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best) (Leroy Carr) - 4:29
6. Blues On The Ceiling (Fred Neil) - 3:30
7. It Hurts Me Too (Mel London) - 3:05
8. How Did The Feeling Feel To You (Tim Hardin) - 2:52
9. Right, Wrong Or Ready (Major Wiley) - 2:58
10.Down On The Street (Don't You Follow Me Down) (Lead Belly) - 2:17
*Karen Dalton – 12 String Guitar, Banjo, Vocals
*Kim King - Electric Guitar
*Dan Hankin - Acoustic Guitar
*Harvey Brooks - Bass
*Gary Chester - Percussion
1971 Karen Dalton - In My Own Time (2006 remaster)