Musicians working in pop modes typically navigate their careers utilizing a mix of expertise and calculation. Karen Dalton, a singer and instrumentalist who made a considerable impression on New York’s Nineteen Sixties folks scene, and whose small physique of recorded work strikes and evokes listeners to this present day, was somebody for whom calculation was inconceivable.
That’s one impression left by “Karen Dalton: In My Own Time,” a wonderful documentary directed by Richard Peete and Robert Yapkowitz. Dalton, who died of AIDS in 1993 at age 55, was of Irish and Cherokee extraction, born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma. As her pal and colleague Peter Stampfel observes, she was one of many few musicians in Greenwich Village’s earnest Americana scene who was authentically “folks.” (He tells some really hair-raising tales of Dalton right here.)
As a participant and singer, she was an elemental power. Whereas her voice resembles that of Billie Vacation, there’s no sense of imitation or affectation to it, as Dalton’s distinctive studying of Vacation’s “God Bless the Little one” demonstrates.
Archival footage offers a disquieting window into Dalton’s bearing. Early within the image there’s a house film of Dalton singing, accompanying herself on guitar. Her mastery appears easy; she’s framed by a seemingly unshakable confidence. As soon as she places the guitar down, that confidence falls away, and she or he turns into awkward, nearly uncomfortable in her personal pores and skin.
A visibly lacking tooth in some efficiency footage testifies to a lifetime of privation and of abuse. Some abuse was self-generated. Like her pal Tim Hardin, one other artist for whom compromise was inimical, Dalton was a hard-living addict. And alas, this cinematic tribute ends with an account of Dalton’s unhealthy breaks persevering with even after her dying.
Karen Dalton: In My Own Time
Not rated. Working time: 1 hour 25 minutes. In theaters.