Release Date: Aug 27, 2013
Record label: Columbia
It was a burnt-out and exhausted Bob Dylan who climbed onto his motorcycle on July 29, 1966. A few days out of a grueling nine-month tour that took him all over the world, he probably wasn’t at the top of his game when his rear wheel locked and he flew over the handlebars and onto the pavement. It was an inconvenient time to get laid up with injuries: his manager Albert Grossman had booked appearances and recording sessions well into the next year.
Although it contained more than ten great songs, Self-Portrait was detested as a work of schmaltz — Dylan doing Perry Como. Therefore it's funny that in 2013, with Bob's voice shot and many critics callously demanding he stop performing, that nothing else could soothe and appease fans like Another Self-Portrait, an album of gorgeous crooning and soul-singing. Advance single "Pretty Saro" is the collection's Rosetta Stone; Dylan's voice is clear and emotive over limited accompaniment on a song that's as simple as it is heartbreaking.
It’s a little hard for those of us who weren’t there to understand the critical reaction to Bob Dylan’s 10th album, 1970‘s Self Portrait. First, let’s pause a moment to reflect on the fact that there was a 10th album already at that point, only eight years and a few months after Dylan released his self-titled debut. It was a busy time: he wrote and performed, culture was churning ahead and changing at what was then an unprecedented pace, and some people in the music world thought of him as a sort of leader of a new consciousness.
In 1969, Bob Dylan was God. He himself wouldn’t look for a Lord until 1978 and wouldn’t inflict this transformation on his public until 1980’s ‘Slow Train Coming’, but millions felt they’d found their religious leader, their icon, their saviour in the cracked voice of the Duluth native’s poetry, his deceptively tuneful modern folk music and rousing, personal political anthems. By 1970 Bob Dylan was something of a joke.
This two-CD set of previously unissued demos, alternate takes, scrapped arrangements and discarded songs from more than 40 years ago is one of the most important, coherent and fulfilling Bob Dylan albums ever released. The performances are immediate and invigorating, often in spare, buoyant arrangements with clear, virile singing. Despite the vintage, or maybe because it's all been hidden for so long, everything here feels like new music, busy being born and put to tape with crisp impatience.
"What is this shit?" famously asked critic Greil Marcus in 1970, baffled by the unlikely covers, odd singing and studio gloop on Self Portrait, Bob Dylan's first post-1960s album. More than 40 years later, these uncluttered mix-downs and lost songs from the same sessions (and the follow-up, New Morning) back up what Dylan explained years later: burdened by being called the "spokesman for a generation", he'd sought refuge in simpler, sweeter songs. Hearing these stripped-down takes is like finding a Rembrandt under a layer of crap.
Bob DylanAnother Self Portrait (1969-1971) The Bootleg Series Vol. 10(Columbia/Legacy)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars(Stream the sampler) Have you listened to Self Portrait lately? It’s really not that bad. That may come as a surprise to those who know the infamous 1970 Bob Dylan album as the musical equivalent of Ishtar (or, for younger viewers, The Lone Ranger) and are aware of noted Dylan scribe Greil Marcus’ vulgar body slam of a review in Rolling Stone.
A funny thing happens early on in Another Self Portrait, the latest edition to Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, which covers a short but fruitful period from 1969 to 1971. There’s something curious about the second song in this huge, 35-track collection. It’s “Little Sadie”, a song that pops up in more than one version in the original 1970 album Self Portrait.
Greil Marcus’ “What is this shit?” has become such an infamous review-opener since it greeted Dylan’s 1970 double-album Self Portrait that I’m not only pilfering it for this review of outtakes from those sessions, but Columbia themselves have placed the question above even the title and Dylan’s name on their own press release. Plenty of albums get reappraised over the years, but you’d be hard-pressed to make the case for Self Portrait, a collection of string-drenched, MOR-sounding covers, Isle Of Wight performance snippets and some lyric-less originals, as a lost classic. The first “official bootleg”? Maybe, if what Bob’s had to say about it since is to be believed; but most definitely a brave choice for a reissue series that boasts indispensable live recordings such as the 1966 “Judas” concert or genuine lost studio gems the likes of Blind Willie McTell, Series Of Dreams and Red River Shore.
The second half of Bob Dylan’s first decade as a performing artist started promisingly enough. After his fabled 1966 motorcycle crash, Dylan overhauled his approach and wound up with more direct, altogether less ambitious music than what he’d been recording immediately prior. Neither 1967’s John Wesley Harding nor ‘69’s Nashville Skyline had a “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, but the syrupy melodies and light, efficient arrangements made for country rock at its finest, standout cuts among them being the Johnny Cash duet “Girl from the North Country” and the jumpy Ray Charles pastiche of “Down Along the Cove”.
Bob Dylan Another Self Portrait: The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 (1969-1971) (Columbia) Hard to convey the critical shitstorm Bob Dylan's Self Portrait generated in 1970. Arriving at the peak of his cultural cachet, the album's half-baked assortment of country, folk, and early rock & roll covers led fans to dismiss it as an elaborate joke, or as a willful act of self-demystification by the Voice of a Generation.
Another Self Portrait, the tenth volume in Bob Dylan's official bootleg series, assembles a slew of unreleased tracks, un-and over-dubbed alternate takes, and demos, mostly from 1970's Self Portrait and New Morning sessions -- they were recorded simultaneously and released within months of one another -- and other material. Dylan restlessly dug into the fakebook of folk, blues, and country tunes that nourished him from the beginning. The few original songs are minor ones.
By 1970, Bob Dylan had already weathered his share of highs and lows. He had gone electric in ’65 at Newport and survived the backlash. He released “Blonde on Blonde,” a masterpiece, the next year, not long before a motorcycle accident sidelined him. And when he returned to recording, he ventured into a rootsy country sound on the albums “John Wesley Harding” and “Nashville Skyline.” Then he lost his way with “Self Portrait’’; at least that was the critical stance upon the double album’s release in 1970.