Bob Dylan: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) The Bootleg Series Vol. 10

Written by August 14th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

This review appears in our upcoming September/October issue. Order it here.

bob dylan bootleg series
Bob Dylan
Another 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.

The problem with Self Portrait was that it was received by an unsuspecting world with no context. In retrospect, we know that Dylan was purposely trying with the double-album to both shake off the shackles of expectations and beat the bootleggers at their own game by releasing what sounded like a collection of outtakes to eliminate the middle man. Nobody knew that then though, leading to such widespread negative attention from the media that Dylan hurriedly released the more traditional album New Morning a few months later for damage control.

The newest edition of Dylan’s celebrated Bootleg Series revisits this controversial era in the artist’s career. Titled Another Self Portrait, the two-disc basic edition includes songs that go back as far as The Basement Tapes in 1967 and as far forward as early ’71 as Bob cobbled together tracks for a Greatest Hits compilation. There are also a couple tracks from Dylan’s 1969 performance with The Band at The Isle Of Wight (the deluxe edition of the collection includes the full performance.) But the bulk of this is composed of outtakes or alternate versions from those two 1970 albums.

What this collection attempts to do is rectify the errors, in production and song selection, made when the albums were first released. In the case of Self Portrait, overdubs added after the fact in ’70 have been eliminated, removing the filter between the listener and Dylan’s raw, affecting performances of “Copper Kettle” and “Days Of ’49.” (Alas, the only amount of removing that would have saved the bizarre “In Search Of Little Sadie” would have been to wipe the tape clean.)

There are also songs here that would have made the original Self Portrait a far better LP had Dylan chosen to include them. His effortlessly heartbreaking take on the traditional “Spanish Is The Loving Tongue” would have rivaled “Copper Kettle” as the album’s standout had it made the final cut, while tender readings of Eric Andersen’s “Thirsty Boots” and Tom Paxton’s “Annie’s Going To Sing Her Song” demonstrate Bob’s skills of interpretation far better than the listless versions of Paul Simon and Gordon Lightfoot hits that bewildered fans back in the day.

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  • Morten Jonsson

    Have you actually read Marcus’s review, Jim? It’s not a body slam at all, once you get past that provocative opening (“What is this shit?”). It’s a very thoughtful attempt to come to terms with this very strange, often close to unlistenable record. Marcus sincerely wants to know what this shit is. He, and the people who bought the record, understood perfectly well what you claim we’ve only now realized–that Dylan was trying to shake off expectations and beat the bootleggers at their own game. They understood that, and still found Self Portrait tough to take. Our advantage now isn’t that we get what Dylan was doing and can appreciate it better; it’s that it doesn’t matter anymore. There’s nothing at stake. It’s just another album. We can enjoy the good stuff on it and let the bad stuff go.

    It’s also not true that Dylan rushed New Morning out for damage control. He’d
    already started recording it before Self Portrait was released. It was going to be the next album no matter what the reaction was. And does it really make sense that he would hurriedly write and record a whole album of new songs just because an album of covers didn’t go over well?

  • Mitch Cohen

    King Bob – Still the life of the party. Rock on, my friend. Rock on. Continued Blessings from The G-d of Abraham…

  • Jim Beviglia

    For clarification, I never said that he rushed it out or made any reference to when he recorded it. Sometimes in writing an article you have to leave out tidbits of information for the sake of brevity, so my wording might have been misleading. It is true that Dylan was shaken by the negative reaction to Self Portrait and, while New Morning was in the works anyway, he clearly hoped it would stem the tide of negativity that Self Portrait had begun.

  • 9Thomas_LaBelle

    I’ve always liked Self Portrait, the new voice and that period of Dylan’s work, mostly disagree with its critics and absolutely love this additional material. Anyone describing Dylan’s version of Early Morning Rain as “listless” probably never listened to it, by the way. Laidback and maybe a tad too bucolic perhaps but listless? It also contains some of Dylan’s most tasty harmonica work. If All the Tired Horses doesn’t hip you to what this “sh*t” is, try it again until you get the aha moment. While Dylan was very likely attempting to shrug off the voice of a generation mantle, I don’t think he was consciously trying to make bad music. That just doesn’t make any sense and is belied by the actual quality of this work. I believe the harsh attacks of critics and undeserved hostility that this material brought actually came as unexpected to Dylan, obviously hurt his feelings and led to the more reserved, cynical, less forthcoming Dylan of today.
    Oh, by the way, like all the Bootleg series, Another Self Portrait has some astonishing performances on it.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Wile Dylan may have started New Morning already, the fact it was released only 3 months after Self-portrait is pretty telling; you have more than a year between John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline, another year until Self-Portrait and then BAM – New morning in three months, and then 3 years until Pat Garrett is released. The release clearly WAS rushed.

  • http://www.theamericanheckler.com/ American Heckler

    This review bores as much as Dylan himself does. Dull, dull, dull.

  • independencemp3

    ain’t nobody knows me, least of all myself

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