This album now seems hard to purchase in the U.S., which is too bad. It's some of the earliest Dylan on tape. This 26+ minutes set is from the same period as the well known Bonnie Beecher tapes. This set shows Dylan singing and playing with a bit more assurance than a few short months before, but not with the overall confidence he would begin to exhibit in late '61. This set floats somewhere between 3 and 3 1/2 "stars"-depending on how much you like very early Dylan.
The first song, "He Was A Friend Of Mine" is slightly tentative, but by the second tune, the mostly nonsensical "Riding In My Car", Dylan sounds like he's more relaxed and having fun. At the start of this song, Dylan introduces Dave Van Ronk as "he used to be a blues singer". Together they flap their lips to make a child's sound of a car engine, which Van Ronk continues as Dylan blows his harp.
"Man On The Street" is a good example of the early protest style of song Dylan would perform during his first years. The seriousness of this song stands in contrast to the previous tune-listen to the lyrics and you'll hear what I mean. The fourth tune, "Song To Woody", is another example of Woody Guthrie's influence on Dylan (especially), and on other singers as well. This song is in homage to Guthrie by Dylan-listen to the lyrics and Dylan's style of delivery.
"Talkin' Bear Mountain Massacre" (or as Dylan calls it, "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Disaster" to the delight of the crowd), is Dylan as a true entertainer. This early version is lively and humorous, with the audience listening to every silly word of this tall tale.
"Pretty Polly" is Dylan the folksinger. He sings the lyrics (for 6 1/2 minutes) with a serious tone, and his guitar and harmonica add to the relative seriousness of this old tune. Throughout the song you can hear Dylan's foot tapping out the beat, which adds to the subtle intensity of it all.
The last song, "The Story Of East Orange", is Dylan the storyteller. Here he tells the audience why they should stay out of East Orange New Jersey. Dylan talks about playing in a coffee house that was frequented by chess players who would interrupt his performances by yelling out "check", and his run ins with a bartender. This 1 1/2 minutes story is both a look into Dylan's early escapades, and his way of telling a tall tale. He tells the story in a rapid style-as if he couldn't wait to get the words out. True or not, this is a great look at Dylan's early style as he honed it to good effect.
I don't know why so many of Dylan's early tapes are now being issued on "legitimate" record labels. Suffice to say, if you don't already own them, and you're a fan of (especially) Dylan's early stages of performing, you need these in your library. Besides this set, check out "The Minneapolis Party Tape", "Live In Minneapolis" (both are Beecher tapes from different periods), "Carnegie Chapter Hall 1961", and "Life And Life Only" (radio and TV recordings 1961-65), most in surprisingly okay sound-especially considering the tape recorders used and the recording conditions. Some of these sets have good concise notes, others (like this short set) have none. But the music is well worth hearing-and that's what's important.