Nathan McLaughlin – Karen Studies

Nathan McLaughlin Karen Studies
Scissor Tail Editions
Cassette C30During the winter of 2013-2013 I was able to really focus myself on the music of Karen Dalton. This was helped by a serious hand injury at the time, I had some free time on my hands so to speak. The music of Karen Dalton has long been an influence on me, I appreciate her translations of many traditional songs and her covering of other contemporary songs as well (see Don’t Make Promises). While Karen and I have little to nothing in common in terms of our private lives, I think what we do have in common is the connection between feeling and music – and how being out in the country can have a positive effect on that relationship. In that spirit I set about deconstructing Karen’s approach to two songs in particular….the traditional Katie Cruel and the Tim Hardin song Don’t Make Promises. This cassette serves as an homage to Karen and her music, and also serves as a celebration of the banjo.

With Karen Studies, McLaughlin has zeroed in on these elements with razor sharp clarity, using Dalton’s renditions of the traditional song “Katie Cruel” and Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises” as his launching pad. Of course, these are no mere cover versions, but instead complete deconstructions of Dalton’s approach to these songs. In places, it’s as though McLaughlin is ruminating on a single note within the melodies of these songs trying to unleash some sort of alchemical power. In others, he appears to be recreating the worn contours of Dalton’s voice itself. In the end, when the banjo notes ring out, McLaughlin has created one of his most original and deeply moving works to date. Whenever they, as the liner notes state, “meet in the middle on a dark dirt road . . . ,” I imagine there will be no offering of souls, only a smile, a quiet nod of approval, and the sense of peace that it brings.

David Perron
Decoder Magazine