Album Review

A Dylan discovery direct from ’63

(Sony Music Entertainment Inc.)
April 11, 2011

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Bob Dylan has been doing a great job of tarnishing his legacy — remember his wretched, almost indecipherable display at the latest Grammys? But there was a time when Dylan’s voice still had a stunning, pre-burnout clarity, and that’s the case on this inspired performance at the Brandeis Folk Festival on May 10, 1963. This is a true discovery, plucked from a concert tape recently found in the archives of Rolling Stone cofounder Ralph Gleason. Dylan was an opening act at Brandeis that night (preceding Boston’s Lilly Brothers) and was in superb form, doing songs that would appear on “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’’ album two weeks later that helped make him a star. None of the Brandeis tunes were yet commercially available — and you can hear the crowd audibly blown away by the protest song “Masters of War,’’ about his contempt for military leaders who “play with the world like it’s your little toy.’’ Dylan was still in his talkin’-blues phase and further highlights include “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’’ (where he rips the need to find communists under every bush) and the rambling but right-on “Talkin’ World War III Blues.’’ But the emotional peak comes on “Ballad of Hollis Brown,’’ a gut-busting look at a poverty-stricken man who turns to violence. Dylan has never sounded more convincing — and any true Dylan lover will have to seek out this album. (Out tomorrow)


ESSENTIAL “Masters of War’’