In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2011, Volume 18, #8
Written by John Metzger
Tue November 8, 2011, 05:30 AM CST
In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963 was originally intended to heighten interest in The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964, the 9th installment in Bob Dylan’s ongoing series of archival recordings. Once the outing did its job — pushing The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964 to #12 on Billboard’s album chart — In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963 was retired from action, only to be resurrected as a standalone set a few months later. This is, of course, a splendid second-life for a recording that not only was made 48 years ago but also had been lost among Ralph Gleason’s personal possessions until 2009.
Not surprisingly, In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963 is an imperfect collection. Appearing at the Brandeis Folk Festival, Dylan spread seven songs across two short sets. A pair of tracks — Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance and Talkin’ World War III Blues — begin rather abruptly. Nevertheless, the sound quality is remarkably crisp and clean. Similarly, although the material that Dylan tackled offers only a small glimpse at his artistic range, it dutifully provides a strong counterpoint to the studio work featured on The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964.
Over the course of In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963, it is apparent that Dylan was nearly finished with the process of shifting his persona from an interpreter of blues songs to a folk singer with an activist agenda. As The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964 demonstrated, Dylan was stockpiling original material at a phenomenal rate. In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963 contains selections that later appeared on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and The Times They Are A-Changin’ as well as several tunes that were left by the wayside, even if they did become well known within his canon. Save for Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance, all of the tracks were aimed at the establishment. With his biting sense of humor, Dylan seemed to revel at rattling the cage of the status quo.
To comprehend how magnanimous In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963 truly is, one must consider its place not only within the context of Dylan’s long and varied career — along with the overall timeline of rock ’n‘ roll — but also within the history of American politics. It is important to remember that in May 1963, Dylan’s career was just getting underway, and he had yet to hit the mainstream. Likewise, The Beatles had not yet turned the music business upside down.
With the election of John F. Kennedy, America had embarked upon a new course, one that was filled with hope and optimism. The world, however, was an increasingly turbulent place. The Bay of Pigs Invasion was nearly disastrous, and some segments of the U.S. population felt threatened by the demands for equal rights that were being made by African-Americans and women. In addition, fringe groups — such as the John Birch Society, which had emerged from the ashes of the McCarthy era — were growing stronger by appealing to the frightened and confused masses.
Sound familiar? In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963 might be the product of the social and political climates in which it was birthed, yet its contents remain eerily relevant. Within the effort’s seven tracks — from the tale of a poverty-stricken farmer in Ballad of Hollis Brown to the cold-war drama of Talkin’ World War III Blues — Dylan captures the essence of an era. He wasn’t yet the voice of a generation, but it’s easy to see how he got there.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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