Bob Dylan – In Concert at Brandeis University 1963 – Columbia/Sony Legacy 88697 84742 2, 38:24 ***½:
(Bob Dylan – vocals, solo acoustic guitar, harmonica)
Recorded just a few weeks before Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Bob was scheduled to perform at Brandeis University’s first folk festival. Early in May, the weather took an unlikely turn for the worse with snow, and Dylan’s concert had to be moved to the school gymnasium.
This May 10th recording remained hidden for almost five decades till it was found with memorabilia of the late Ralph J. Gleason, by Jeff Gold of record mecca.com. in Gleason’s basement. Gleason was a co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine as well as a jazz and rock critic in San Francisco. This is a significant historical find as most Dylan live recordings are bootlegs with mediocre to poor sound.
Columbia has included this Brandeis recording with the purchase of The Wittmark Demos, recently released by Sony Legacy as a 2 CD set. Those demos were recorded between 1962-1964, and though the sound quality was only fair, the demos highlighted Dylan’s early fascination with political songs and talking blues. Sony has now seen fit to release the May 1963 Brandeis concert as a single short (38:24) CD due to the historical significance of this early concert. We don’t get any of Dylan’s later mega-hits (“Girl from the North Country”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Don’t Think Twice), but the charm of Dylan at age 21 comes through loud and clear.
The recording quality here is decent. Bob’s voice ranges from distant from the microphone, to much clearer, and even passable for a live recording of the period. “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” is incomplete and ends suddenly, but we get some early Dylan harmonica to appreciate. This song was also given a short version on Freewheelin’. “Talkin John Birch Paranoid Blues” was one of three talking blues (out of the seven tracks) on the CD. Dealing with the period of exaggerated fear of Communists, Bob throws in some sarcastic lines including the fact at least Hitler was not a Communist.
“Ballad of Hollis Brown” was released a year later on The Times They are A Changin’. Based on a true story, Hollis was a down on his luck worker with a family to support. With no prospects, he takes a shot gun and shoots his family dead on his South Dakota farm.
“Masters of War” follows, and it is the most well-known of all the tracks here. Its haunting melody still resounds today with the myriad of conflicts around the world. Not much has changed. This song clearly inspired the audience as it closes the first set.
The second set clearly has a warmer sounding instrumental mix, but Dylan’s vocals still have a distant feel. “Talkin’ World War III Blues” has a similar feel to “John Birch Blues” as Dylan is all over the place with his distinctive stream of consciousness, scattering thoughts. The harmonica lines are great, though. “Bob Dylan’s Dream” has more coherence and reflection and Woody Guthrie’s influence is felt on this track. It is my favorite song on the Brandeis recording. Guthrie’s inspiration is also present on the second set closer, “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues.”
Reportedly based on a picnic planned for New York City’s seniors that involved counterfeit tickets leading to an overcrowded boat that prevented the Hudson Belle from sailing for a Fathers’ Day picnic to upstate New York, in typical fashion Dylan embellishes the facts to tell its story. Recorded before the March on Washington and President Kennedy’s assassination several months later, listening to the Brandeis concert is a trip back in time before dramatic changes came to our country. It covers a lot of ground in under forty minutes.
TrackList: Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance, Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues, Ballad of Hollis Brown, Masters of War, Talkin’ World War III Blues, Bob Dylan’s Dream, Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues
— Jeff Krow