Thursday, November 16, 2006

From the vault, circa 1971

Two nearly forgotten artists from the 70s got some reissue love last week, courtesy of Light in the Attic Records. The once obscure works of folk singer Karen Dalton and Ska pioneer Jackie Mittoo have both seen a uptick in their awareness thanks in part to Devendra Banhart and Lily Allen, respectively.

Karen Dalton's In My Own Time (1971) was a collector's item fetching a pretty penny by music collectors. Back in the early Greenwich folk days, Dalton was considered a peer amongst the likes of Fred Neil and Bob Dylan, but she never reached the success of her friends. Her Billie Holiday-like alto had a rural twang and an otherwordly oddness to it that didn't translate to the general public, and as a result, she was mostly forgotten. She died homeless on the streets of New York in 1993.

Album: Karen Dalton - In My Own Time
Download: "Katie Cruel" (Light in the Attic)

Devendra Banhart cites Dalton as his all-time favorite voice, and it's in part due to his trumpeting of her that we get a chance to hear In My Own Time. Banhart contributes to the liner notes, along with Nick Cave and Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group guitarist.) Her interpretation of the traditional songs "Katie Cruel" and "Same Old Man" (she plays banjo for both) is hauntingly beautiful. In them you can clearly hear how many of the Freak or Psych-folk artists today owe her props. Even a straight-up version of "How Sweet It Is" becomes more then that by Dalton's incredible pacing, as she slips and slides out of the rhythm we expect to hear.

Jackie Mitoo was the 'Keyboard King' of Jamaica's legendary Studio One and a member of The Skatalites. In 1968 he, along with many other Jamaican musicians, moved to Toronto, taking advantage of a burgeoning West Indies community and a more favorable political climate. So while he had helped pave the way for Ska and Rocksteady back in Kingston, the influence of Northern Soul and R&B mixed into his sound, so by 1971, when he released Wishbone, the sounds of Jamaica were merely an underlying current in his overall sound. The title track had minor chart success in it's day, seemingly mixing the melody of The Beatles' "Carry That Weight" with the backing of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" to a Ska rhythm. Highlights include "Mother Funk," "La La Girls and Cha-Cha Boys" and "Soul Bird."

Album: Jackie Mitoo - Wishbone
Download: "Soul Bird" (Light in the Attic)

Folks familiar with the tidal wave that is Lily Allen know Mittoo best from his keyboard work sampled for Allen's single "Smile" (from "Free Soul" by Mittoo's The Soul Brothers.)

Freak Folk - Beginnings (Vashti Bunyan, Karen Dalton and more)
Smile You're Number 1 (Lily Allen samples Mittoo on the #1 UK smash "Smile")

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Shawn Anderson said...

Karen Dalton - In My Own Time

1. Something On Your Mind
2. When a Man Loves a Woman
3. In My Own Dream
4. Katie Cruel
5. How Sweet It Is
6. In a Station
7. Take Me
8. Same Old Man
9. One Night of Love
10. Are You Leaving for the Country

Shawn Anderson said...

Jackie Mittoo - Wishbone

1. Satisfaction
2. Groovy Spirit
3. Love Life
4. Wishbone
5. Grand Funk
6. La-La Girls & Cha-Cha Boys
7. Dry Wine
8. Love of Life
9. Soul Bird
10. Steeple in the Snow
11. Mother Funk
12. Right Track