While Bob Dylan devotees will be thrilled with the release of a previously unknown live recording of the young singer taped at Brandeis University’s First Annual Folk Festival in May 1963, more casual fans may be less impressed. The concert tape was discovered in the archives of music critic and Rolling Stone co-founder Ralph Gleason by his son a little more than a year ago after the death his mother. Only 21 at the time of the concert, Dylan was yet to establish himself as one of the luminaries of the folk scene. Although he was recording with Columbia Records, his first album, Bob Dylan, contained very little original material and hadn’t been particularly successful. His second album, which included some of his soon-to-be-iconic songs, had yet to be released. Festival headliners were Pete Seeger and Jean Ritchie; Dylan was the equivalent of an opening act.
The concert tape contains two sets and seven songs, all of which are available elsewhere in studio recordings. There are three talking blues: “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” and “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues.” The first is a satirical attack on the anti-communist lunatic fringe, which was later to create some controversy when Dylan was not allowed to sing it on The Ed Sullivan Show. All three of these songs show the singer still in the Woody Guthrie phase of his early career.
There is a foreshortened version of “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance,” which was to be included on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The “Ballad of Hollis Brown,” as intense a composition as anything in Dylan’s early canon, is the longest cut on this live album. “Bob Dylan’s Dream” — sung with the kind clarity that no longer seems to interest the 70-year-old artist — and the plaintive protesting “Masters of War” are probably the highlights of the two sets. The latter, which ends Dylan’s first set, gets a really enthusiastic reception from the audience.
Liner notes for the album are written by Michael Gray, author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia and Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan. They provide an interesting prospective on the singer and his repertoire at this early stage of his career. The concert, Gray points out, was not a momentous performance. “It reveals him not at any Big Moment but giving a performance like his folkclub sets of the period: repertoire from an ordinary working day.”