With the release this week of his new album, "Modern Times," Bob Dylan has been inescapable in the press.
With the release this week of his new album, "Modern Times," Bob Dylan has been inescapable in the press. But a short film and an album reissue will put the spotlight on a pair of Dylan's contemporaries on the '60s New York folk scene who have hitherto escaped wide notice, despite their esteemed colleague's expressions of respect.
Writer/director Sandra Hale Schulman's 13-minute mini-documentary "The Ballad of Peter LaFarge" shines new light on the titular singer/songwriter, who was called "one of the unsung heroes of his day" by Dylan in the notes to the 1985 retrospective "Biograph." The film, to be screened in September during the Americana Music Association conference in Nashville, prefaces the 2007 release of a tribute album -- which will include Dylan's 1970 recording of LaFarge's "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" -- and an all-star concert.
Meanwhile, in his 2005 memoir "Chronicles Volume One," Dylan recalled Karen Dalton as "my favorite singer" at Greenwich Village's Cafe Wha? Dalton, whose jazzy, legato style summoned comparisons to Billie Holiday, recorded only two albums. On Nov. 7, Seattle-based Light in the Attic Records will rerelease the elusive second LP, the 1971 set "In My Own Time." The package will include notes by Patti Smith Group guitarist and music scholar Lenny Kaye and musician-fans Nick Cave and Devendra Banhart.
LaFarge, who died in 1965, and Dalton, who died in 1993, had much in common. Both were part American Indian, both grappled with drug and alcohol problems and both were active at the height of the Village folk boom but quickly faded from view. Images of them -- footage of LaFarge singing "Ira Hayes," a photo of Dalton performing with Dylan and her mentor Fred Neil -- flit by in Martin Scorsese's Dylan documentary "No Direction Home."
LaFarge was better known: He recorded for Columbia and Folkways and wrote most of "Bitter Tears," Johnny Cash's 1964 concept album. When Schulman began researching LaFarge's life after Cash died, she says she found "all this weird information. ... It was very spotty. It was shocking."
Discovering that most of the available "facts" about LaFarge were wrong, Schulman set out making a short film, to be included on a tribute DualDisc. "The Ballad of Peter LaFarge" surveys the musician's life -- his privileged upbringing as the son of Pulitzer-winning novelist Oliver LaFarge, his work as an actor and rodeo rider, his meteoric folk career -- coolly and briskly through a photo montage and narration. It will be included with the album "Rare Breed," which will feature tracks by Cash, John Trudell, Hank Williams III and the Doors' John Densmore, among others.
Bearing a voice, as Kaye puts it, "as much horn as vocal cord," Dalton has bred her own cult. Light in the Attic co-owner Matt Sullivan discovered her through Koch's 1997 reissue of her debut, "It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best." Although not a songwriter, Sullivan notes, she was a unique talent: "She makes these songs completely her own -- they're not even covers, in a sense."
After protracted negotiations with Michael Lang -- the promoter of the original Woodstock music festival, who released "In My Own Time" on his label, Just Sunshine Records -- Light in the Attic finally secured the rights. Sullivan hopes to reach a new audience that may have heard about Dalton through her legion of performing admirers. "It's so rare to find a record that so many generations latch onto," he says.