Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton
There are only two albums by Karen Dalton, a tragic figure with a heartbreak-voice. Like Dory Previn or Nick Drake or – more recently Elliott Smith and Jeff Buckley – she’s someone you are drawn to, you hear the testimony of a Bob Dylan or – more recently Sharon Van Etten – and you’re there. The sadness of the story informs the music.
Dalton could sing the hell out of a great cover and she had a way with a word. This album is a collection of her lyrics, turned into songs. In the majority of cases here the talented singer/songwriters called in to shape these have taken a kid-gloves approach in a way reminiscent of Wilco and Billy Bragg dealing with those leftover Woody Guthrie lyrics. There’s an array of fans gathered here too. Sharon Van Etten performed the opening, title track as part of her recent New Zealand shows and she’s so perfectly suited to this music; the huge sweep of emotions in her own music, a voice that lines up with Dalton’s – it’s a good start.
Then we have Patty Griffin (All That Shines Is Not Truth) who has barely put a foot wrong. Julia Holter, Lucinda Williams, Marissa Nadler, Isobel Campbell and Josephine Foster are among the knock-it-out-of-the-park talent involved.
If you’re already a Dalton fan this will only be a temporary distraction before you’re back to those two albums from the late 1960s/early 1970s. But if this is your way in you might stick around here longer before heading off to the true country of Dalton-land. That said, this is respectful, and important. These singer/songwriters were clearly touched by Dalton’s work, there’s an influence there. You get the feeling they’re repaying a debt of sorts. And it’s just nice to hear this all in one place – these unheard songs, gathered and sounding as good as they could. A classy compilation.