Monday, October 16, 2006

Take Me ... To Siberia

Let’s hear it, again, for Seattle’s Light in the Attic Records. They’ve made Karen Dalton’s 1971 record "In My Own Time" available on CD. The late Dalton is one of those long-lost craggy cult icons. People like Dylan, Devendra Banhart and Nick Cave have all listed her as an influence. She had a funny croaky voice that would go ghostly dead for microseconds. But she was quite a stylist, working some phrasing mojo, throwing in a weird accent here, flattening a melody there, puffing it up someplace else. Countless artists have struggled to capture that Old Weird America-style creepy strangeness of mountain ballads and old time 78s, but Dalton’s froggy rasp can successfully generate the spookiness. "Something On Your Mind," "Katie Cruel" and her version of "Take Me" are the real killers. She sounds at times like M Ward doing Billie Holiday.

Back in 2003 Light in the Attic also reintroduced the world to the Free Design, a trio of two brothers and a sister who made ‘60s pop with sweet blended harmonies, confectionary orchestral backing and a breezy hint of muzak-style bossa nova. But as anyone from a big family knows, a group of siblings can be like a strange solipsistic unit, lost in a world of their own making. The Dedrick siblings in the Free Design demonstrate a similar terminally insular feeling. They may do a couple soft-serve covers of the era ("Michelle" and "The 59th Street Bridge Song") but their originals were plain disturbing, alternating between a childlike innocence ("Kites Are Fun" and "My Brother Woody") and a seething adolescent contempt for square conformist world of grown-ups ("The Proper Ornaments"). It’s a little like the android version of the Fifth Dimension.

"Something on Your Mind" – Karen Dalton

"Same Old Man" - Karen Dalton

"The Proper Ornaments" - The Free Design

"My Brother Woody" - The Free Design

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