Bob Dylan

Talkin' New York

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Bob Dylan's performance in Carnegie Chapter Hall on November 4, 1961 is one of the first live recordings of the singer before a standard concert audience to have circulated (though numerous earlier tapes have been bootlegged in which he's playing live in more informal situations). Prior to the appearance of this 15-song bootleg in 2008, only seven songs from the show had made the rounds. It's rumored that there are even more, but at this length, it certainly makes for what could have been issued as a full LP -- not as fanciful a notion as it sounds, since the sound is pretty good. Dylan would record his first album just a couple weeks later, and in some ways this is almost an alternate version of the Bob Dylan LP, as six of these songs would also be done in the studio for that long-player (and another, "Man on the Street," would be recorded during those sessions as an outtake). It might be coincidental, but those tunes tend to be the more memorable of the ones from this program, especially when he gets bluesy on "Gospel Plow," "Fixin' to Die," and "Freight Train Blues," and offers his first substantial early composition with "Song to Woody." "Talkin' to New York" is another early original that's present here, but otherwise he's still sticking to traditional folk songs, (including "In the Pines," perhaps better known under the title "Where Did You Go Last Night?") and Woody Guthrie tunes ("1913 Massacre" and, more notably, "This Land Is Your Land"). The strengths that would make Dylan a giant are already apparent: confident, forceful reinterpretations of a melting pot of traditional folk idioms; his unusual voice and phrase; his gutsy harmonica, and his sly comic banter with the audience. So, too, are the elements that made his 1961 work markedly inferior even to what he recorded and performed in 1962: a lack of much original material, far more derivative debts to traditional folk styles, and too many songs that rely on narration and talking blues. For those who want a somewhat bigger picture of his repertoire at the time he started his recording career, however -- as well as an illustration of the distance he still had to travel, toward which he'd take huge steps within months by prolifically writing songs in which he found more of his own voice -- this is highly recommended.