Most helpful positive review
81 of 85 people found the following review helpful
Tangled up in tapes
on 26 August 2013
First of all, a confession: I've always loved 'Self Portrait'. For my money, it's one of Dylan's easiest, warmest and most listenable albums - and, of course, an 'Americana' masterpiece decades before the term was even coined. Perhaps 'Self Portrait' was Dylan's attempt to capture the elusive Basement Tapes spirit with the full resources of Columbia's studios at his disposal. Even if not, as with the 'Basement' sessions, many, many yards of tape were recorded for 'Self Portrait' and, more than once, Dylan did indeed capture lightning in a bottle. What 'Another Self Portrait' proves is that not all of these moments of magic were released on the original album.
So, here's the good news. 'Pretty Saro' is without doubt one of the most gorgeous performances of Dylan's entire career, and is most certainly worth the price of admission all by itself. Close behind are 'Thirsty Boots', 'Tattle O'Day', 'Railroad Bill', 'This Evening So Soon', 'Annie's Gonna Sing Her Song' and yet another outing for one of Dylan's perennial favourites 'Spanish is the Loving Tongue'. All of these are excellent tracks that inexplicably missed the cut for the 'Self Portrait' album. Some are sung in a sensitive tenor folk croon that recalls his very earliest (pre-1961) voice, but with a depth of expression wrought from a decade of performing experience. These are some of Dylan's very finest folk performances, and are an absolute 'must' for any collector.
There are other real goodies here too. In particular, the 'New Morning' out-takes are a revelation. The 'big band' overdubs on the title track give it a real swagger, and an electric piano version of 'Went To See The Gypsy' with the same fuzzy warmth as the Stones' 'Fool To Cry' is simply jaw-dropping. And a 'straight' rendition of 'If Dogs Run Free' make me want to shoot that scat singer all the more. This and a couple of other outtakes show that 'New Morning' could clearly have been a very different and maybe more compelling album than the one eventually released.
When then only the four stars? Quite a few reasons, in fact. Firstly, this is a collection that casts its net very widely indeed, and to my mind it loses coherence as a result. In addition to the various 1970 studio out-takes, there are a couple of discarded takes from 'Nashville Skyline', a 1967 'Basement' recording of 'Minstrel Boy' [begging the question as to when the Basement Tapes will FINALLY get a proper Bootleg Series re-issue], two previously-unissued takes from the 1969 Isle of Wight Concert, a demo of 'When I Paint My Masterpiece', a track from the 1971 session from Happy Traum... In other words, it's a real mixed bag - kind of a 'Tell Tale Signs' for 1967-71 - but sequenced in a way that makes no sense at all and provides a really stop-start listening experience. And despite the period-hopping it's far from comprehensive. A really complete overview of the period would have given us the Cash-Dylan and Dylan-Harrison sessions, the 1968 Woody Guthrie memorial concert and would also have dusted down the 1973 'Dylan' compilation for a long-overdue CD re-release.
Finally, a huge raspberry to Columbia for reserving the full 1969 Isle of Wight concert for the insanely expensive 'executive' version. Sheer greed. Disgraceful. The right thing for Columbia to have done would have been to have re-issued (as separate releases) an extended 2-CD version of 'Self Portrait', an extended 1-CD 'New Morning', a single live CD of Dylan and the Band in 1968-69, covering the Guthrie gig and the Isle of Wight concert, a single CD remaster of 'Dylan', and then a further 2-CD set of other 1968-71 session work, with the Cash-Harrison sessions, the unissued Happy Traum collaborations, plus the remaining outtakes from Nashville Skyline - oh, and both sides of the 'George Jackson' single as well, please. I'd buy the lot!
All in all then, this is a worthwhile set, and is lovely to have, but it's still a pale shadow of being a proper representation of this interesting, transitional and rewarding period in Dylan's career.