This is a collection (78 minutes approximately) of various performances between 1961 and 1965. They've been floating around for years in various issues, but as far as I know this is the first "legitimate", easily obtainable release of this music. The sound varies of course, but is better than you think-pretty good bootleg quality. The lyrics are easily heard, and the guitar sounds fairly crisp under the circumstances.
The first six tracks (Track 1 is an Introduction) come from a July 1961, "12 Hour Hootenanny Special", at Riverside Church. The songs are, "Handsome Molly", "Omie Wise", "Po Lazarus", "Mean Old Southern Railroad", and "Acne". These songs find Dylan singing and performing with more assurance than earlier the same year. Between songs, Dylan comments briefly about his harmonica rack not working properly, and generally acknowledging the audience. He then launches into a good version of "Omie Wise" and continues with his set. These songs were recorded just a few months after Dylan arrived in New York City. His performance (and the entire show) was broadcast over the radio as "Saturday Of Folk Music". During this period, Dylan was using comedic routines (especially the "poor me" style) to endear himself to the audience. You can hear him trying to fashion a harmonica holder out of a wire coat hanger-to the audiences delight.
On "Mean Old Southern Railroad" Dylan plays harmonica for guitarist Danny Kalb (later of the band Blues Project), and shares vocals with Ramblin' Jack Elliott on "Acne". The lyrics to "Acne" were written by Eric Von Schmidt, a folkie relatively forgotten now, but important in the early days of the folk movement. Dylan's harmonica work with Kalb is pretty good, and hearing him sing "Acne" in a doo-wop style is pure satire. These are examples of a very early Dylan that would soon disappear.
"Sally Gal" and "Girl I Left Behind" are also from 1961, from the "Oscar Brand's Folk Song Festival", during October of that year. Brand does a short interview/introduction, with Dylan bringing out his (untrue) story of traveling with various carnivals as a kid and learning songs. "Sally Gal" is performed at a good pace, with Dylan in fine, exuberant form. This may be the earliest performance of this well known tune by Dylan. "Girl I Left..." is a traditional song that's been around (sometimes in slightly differing versions) for many years. Dylan uses the right amount of poignancy in this sad tale.
After his introduction, Dylan performs "Girl From The North Country", and "Only A Hobo", also recorded for Brand's radio show in 1963. Dylan apparently wasn't scheduled to perform, but agreed to sing a couple of songs. Dylan speaks briefly between songs, and there's a period radio show introduction that's pretty cool to hear.
"Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" is from the "Steve Allen Show" on TV, from February of 1964. Allen and Dylan talk briefly before he begins "Lonesome...", a song about racial inequality and death. An interesting aside is that Allen thought Dylan had no chance to make it in show business. Oops.
The last two songs, from February 1965, are from the "Les Crane Show". After an introduction by Crane, Dylan sings a good version of "It's All over Now Baby Blue". In the background you can hear Bruce Langhorne (who also recorded with Dylan in the studio) on electric guitar, accenting Dylan's performance. The other tune, "It's Alright Ma", with all the verses, (introduced by Dylan as "It's Alright Ma, It's Life And Life Only") is sung just after a long (18 minutes) interview with a talkative Dylan. The talk ranges over a number of subjects-a lot of it pretty nonsensical. But the host does let on that poet Allen Ginsberg was on a previous show, and talked about "legalizing pot", pretty heady stuff (no pun intended) for a commercial show of that time. But included are some insights into Dylan during this period-being inspired by Hank Williams, watching TV in pool halls and bars (half jokingly) hearing his songs performed by other artists, and possibly buying a car. Dylan is actually fairly funny at times, and even banters with the other guests on the show.
For fans of very early Dylan, this is well worth checking out. Many people have this stuff already on various bootlegs, but this is an easily obtainable way to acquire these early songs and interviews. It's a fascinating trip back in time, when Dylan was still honing his identity, when his (and everyone's) expectations were full of innocence. If you're of a certain age (and don't already own this music) this is like getting a long lost present from home-the memories this music conjures up! Incidentally, the concert mentioned by Oscar Brand is also available as "Bob Dylan Carnegie Chapter Hall", from 1961. It's already been reviewed so I won't waste anyone's time reviewing it myself.