Live 1964 (Columbia/Legacy)
Recorded at New York City's Philharmonic Hall on Halloween, 1964, this new double CD captures Dylan performing solo toward the end of his first acoustic period. The 23-year-old bard sounds relaxed, joking with the audience between songs, and breaking into giggles on several occasions. Dylan trawls through most of his greatest hits up to Bringing It All Back Home and includes three original songs that never made it onto any official release: the hilarious "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", the superb "Who Killed Davey Moore?", and the indifferent "Mama, You Been on My Mind", appallingly sung in a duet with guest Joan Baez.
Dylan has always been more concerned with immediacy than polish. Most of the time on Live 1964 the rough-and-ready approach succeeds and the performances are compelling. The highlights are stark, powerful takes on "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", "Mr Tambourine Man", and "Gates of Eden". Dylan's vocal delivery on the nine-minute version of "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" is remarkably measured, and the words, fired off in rhyming volleys, are well-articulated throughout. At one point he fluffs a line, but that just serves to remind us he's walking a very live wire. As a relentless exposé of the dark side of American society, the song is without equal and still sounds fresh and relevant after 40 years. It's an integral part of an album that presents Dylan, warts and all, at one of his creative peaks.