“Something on Your Mind” is a song written by singer-songwriter Dino Valenti in the 1960s. However, it is Karen Dalton’s haunting and emotive interpretation of the song that has made it a classic. In 2022, Light In The Attic released a split 7-inch as part of their Covers Series featuring Dalton’s famed rendition and a modern cover of the song by Angel Olsen. The single is titled Angel Olsen Plays Karen Dalton.
Let’s start by digging into what made Dalton’s version so special and a little history about Karen Dalton herself.
Something On Your Mind
Dalton, a folk-blues singer, recorded the song in 1971 for her album In My Own Time.
Her version of “Something on Your Mind” stands out given her unique voice, which is a little rough around the edges and full of raw emotion. Her sparse and understated guitar playing, coupled with the subtle accompaniment of a steel guitar, perfectly complements this vocal delivery.
The result is a stripped-down, yet powerful rendition of the song that conveys a deep sense of longing and vulnerability. Dalton’s distinctive voice and unique approach to folk-blues have earned her a devoted following and have inspired a new generation of artists.
More on that in a moment.
Light in the Attic highlights the song as one “that enduringly underscores the unspoken thoughts, painful truths and buried emotions between people and within oneself.” They note that “thematically, the song is universal and resonates as much with listeners today emerging from a post-pandemic world as it did for Karen Dalton when she first recorded it in 1971.”
A Brief Background on Karen Dalton
A little more about Karen Dalton. She had a unique place in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s. She was a contemporary of Bob Dylan and Fred Neil, and she played at the same venues and coffeehouses as Joan Baez, Tim Buckley, and many others. Despite being highly regarded by her peers, Dalton never really achieved mainstream success during her lifetime. She struggled with addiction and other personal issues throughout her career, which likely — and sadly — contributed to her relative obscurity.
Despite her lack of commercial success, Dalton’s music has continued to resonate with audiences in the years since her death in 1993 — in fact, in many ways, she’s gained quite the recognition posthumously. In recent years, this renewed interest in has seen reissues of her albums — many on Light In The Attic — and documentaries about her life and career. Many contemporary musicians have cited her as an influence, including Joanna Newsom, Sharon Van Etten, and, of course, Angel Olsen.
Angel Olsen Plays Karen Dalton
That brings us to this 7-inch single here, Angel Olsen Plays Karen Dalton, and Olsen’s rendition of the song. To quote Olsen herself, “‘Something On Your Mind’ for me is about letting yourself face something that keeps setting you back.” Even beyond this single, Dalton’s impact on Olsen cannot go unmentioned. Olsen contributed her voice to Dalton’s personal journals in the documentary Karen Dalton: In My Own Time.
Olsen’s rendition of “Something on Your Mind” is a testament to the enduring power of Dalton’s music. Faithful to the original, her cover is perhaps slightly more polished but true to Olsen’s style of stripping music down to its most minimal elements to create her own unique power within the sounds. Olsen’s version is merely vocals and pared back, softly played piano chords.
Given that, she maintains much of the same sense of longing and vulnerability that made Dalton’s version so compelling, but adds her own unique voice and style to the mix. The result is a beautiful tribute to a talented but often-overlooked artist.
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