63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tangled up in tapes
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...
Published 6 months ago by Rough Diamond
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great album - but expensive for an album with a known mastering issue
Went for the deluxe edition and, it is a fascinating return to a troubled part of Bob's recording career. I've been drawn into buying all sorts of Bob material over the years, and have been truly faithful to the cause, because I love Bob and most that he's done over the decades. No problem with getting this fascinating box, it is a great edition in the series...but, yep,...
Published 5 months ago by Poddy
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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tangled up in tapes,
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 new very widely indeed, and to my mind 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. Lovely. 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.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Digging up gold from the days of 69,
Why spend extra money on this 4 disc `deluxe edition' box set instead of the standard 2 disc Another Self-Portrait?
The main reason is because you get the full 1969 Isle of Wight Bob Dylan and The Band Concert. This has a reputation for being a rather lack-lustre affair because the four tracks originally released were badly mixed and the quality of bootlegs was very poor. In fact this lovingly remastered version shows what a great concert it actually was, with Dylan fully committed to his material and The Band at the top of their game in accompanying him. Dylan's voice was light and lyrical, and nowhere better on display than in the acoustic versions of It Ain't Me Babe, To Ramona and Mt Tambourine Man. Close your eyes and you are transported back over forty years to the front row of a classic Dylan concert.
You also get two hard-back books, the first including essays by Greil Marcus and Michael Simmons. Greil Marcus is at his best here, and his analysis of Little Sadie is very perceptive, perfectly capturing what is so good about Dylan's strange and compelling treatment of this song. The second book contains lots of photos of a relaxed and unguarded Dylan from the Woodstock and New York years, many of which I have not seen before.
And finally - you get a pristine-sounding remastered version of the original Self-Portrait album, which was never as bad as the critics made out anyway.
All in all this deluxe edition is definitely worth having - a fantastic celebration of a period of Dylan's career which turns out to have been full of musical gold that no way justified those `What is this shit?' taunts.
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What is this piece of .....? Genius Perhaps,
Well we all know what Greil Marcus thought of 'Self Portrait' back in 1970. Now I'm no Dylan nut, but I do own his greatest albums, all the Bootleg releases and I know that he is one of the most important artists of the past 50 years. His influence cannot be denied and in my opinion it is equal to The Beatles. Back in the mid 60's when The Beatles heard Dylans first albums they realised there was more to lyric writing than 'she loves you yeah, yeah' and equally when Dylan heard The Beatles albums he realised there was more to making music than strumming an acoustic guitar. But despite my love for many of his albums I know there are those that need to be avoided, 'Saved' 'Under The Red Sky' for instance, and I'd always been led to believe that 'Self Portrait' and 'New Morning' fell into that category. So when I saw that this was the next release in the Bootleg series I was wary. Was this a case of scraping the bottom of the barrel and trying to get more money out of Dylans fans or had something truly revealing been discovered in the vaults? I held back on ordering until I read David Fricke's review in Rolling Stone which indicated it was the latter.
I've never listened to the albums 'Self Portrait' and 'New Morning' (Even in these days of Spotify), but that maybe an advantage as I've come to these recordings with no baggage and can listen to them from a different perspective to many others. All I can say is this really is quite an amazing set of recordings. Dylan had reached a crossroads in his career here, the end of his first decade as a recording artist. He'd been the 'spokesman for a generation' acoustic troubadour on his first albums, and then ventured down the rock'n'roll route, where was he going to go from there. Well, the evidence here suggests he was looking back towards his earlier style, on the whole these are quite bare recordings, mainly acoustic guitars, harmonica and piano, none of the raucous rock'n'roll from Highway 61 etc but a continuation of the styles he had explored on 'John Wesley Harding' and 'Nashville Skyline'. Speaking of Highway 61 there is an amazing recording of this song with The Band from the Isle of Wight festival, along with 'I'll Be Your Baby Tonight'. The whole of that concert is available on the Deluxe edition of this release but I wasn't prepared to fork out £75 for that. But let's concentrate on this edition rather than complain about Columbia's marketing strategy. This really is an outstanding release, when 'The Witmark Demos' was released a few years ago I thought the well had run dry. It has not only not run dry there seems to be plenty more in there if this is anything to go by. I'll even go so far as to say that this could be the most satisfying of all The Bootleg series, and that is saying something as none of them have disappointed me.
To think that over 50 years after his first recording not only is Dylan still able to amaze us with new recordings, but there are 10 volumes of bootleg recordings as well, and for me none of those belong in the category 'scraping the bottom of the barrel'. There are only a few other artists I wish would undertake a similar program (Mick, Keef are you reading this)Dylan really has led the way here. If you were wondering whether or not to buy this volume of the series, wonder no longer it really is quite a revelation.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't let me be misunderstood!,
I never considered the original album to be the disaster that many, including Greil Marcus, thought it to be. This update proves that the original conception was another gem in Dylan's not inconsiderable body of work. Possibly the original execution was flawed in some respects but this new release reveals the gold as originally envisioned. Worth every star. Also worth noting is that the MP3 release of the deluxe 4 cd box is only of the previously unreleased material so it means that you do not have the remastered original material. Just in case anyone thought that they were getting all the CDs as a download.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great album - but expensive for an album with a known mastering issue,
Went for the deluxe edition and, it is a fascinating return to a troubled part of Bob's recording career. I've been drawn into buying all sorts of Bob material over the years, and have been truly faithful to the cause, because I love Bob and most that he's done over the decades. No problem with getting this fascinating box, it is a great edition in the series...but, yep, I've also got the glitched disc 4, oh yippee. I'd been reading that they'd sold all the kn*ckered versions and had remastered the bad disc so the glitch is now fixed (but not for the one I bought). No news of where existing owners should go to get a new copy, which is disgraceful. I believe, from blog sites, that we should contact the product manager for Columbia in the UK, but I've yet to find his or her details online. Any ideas guys? Girls?
5 stars for the album, 1 star for the glitch = 3 overall. Shame on you Columbia.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Up there with Dylan's best,
I'm so glad I bought this, the 2 disc edition. Whilst I would love to have the deluxe set with the full live performance, I am absolutely delighted with this standard edition. "Another Self Portrait" is beautifully sequenced and is conceptually and musically superior to "Self Portrait". It takes you on a gorgeous journey into Americana, continuing the trip started with the Big Pink basement sessions through John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and into New Morning. To me, this music achieves the same ambitions as a John Ford western. Majestic and intimate, sweeping and affectionate. Nostalgia can be sweet in measured doses and it's a pity that the original "Self Portrait" album ended up being so muddled and forced. The Bootleg Series has once again come up with gold. Buy with confidence.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Working On A Guru,
Further evidence that Dylan rewards his fans more than anyone in releasing not only unreleased material but stuff that is worthy of the original releases themselves. Self Portrait for sure is flawed but had many highlights. So here are some highlights:
1) Great sleevenotes. Love the way Greil Marcus' original review from Rolling Stone 'What is this s***?' is turned into 'what this s*** is'.
2)Tattle O Day Hilarious lyric, should have been on the album, in place of Minstrel Boy for example.
3)Alberta 3 so much better than 1 and 2. What was Bob thinking?
4)The live Isle Of Wight tracks: both better than what turned up on Self Portrait. I love Levon's shouted backing vocal! I am a little pissed off that the entire Isle of Wight concert is only available on the super expensive box set edition, but that is not what I am reviewing here.
5)When I Paint My Masterpiece: good demo, although I prefer the original lyrics to the rock'n rolla lines here. Bob's piano is great.
6)Railroad Bill simple but effective
7)Thirsty Boots easily should have made the album. At the expense of the pretty poor and incongruous 'Like A Rolling Stone' Isle Of Wight version. Why did Self Portrait include such live tracks as they just destroy the continuity of the album.
8) Annie great song, should have replaced Alberta 1 or 2 or 'I've Forgotten More'
9) This Evening So Soon Genuinely moving.
10) Copper Kettle without overdubs, same: moving
11) Working On A Guru: fun song,not great but featuring George H so of specila interst to us Beatles/Dylan fans
12) Spanish Is The Loving Tongue: perhaps the best track here,superb and much better than the later released version (although the 'Dylan' album from 1973 is mysteriously unavailable still!
13) Pretty Saro amazing
Personally the New Morning songs don't do much for me or improve on the album versions. The Nashville outakes are tantalising but I would have preferred a full set of those! But there is so much value for money here that I doubt you will be disappointed.
35 tracks here for a very reasonable price. Wish Bob's contemporaries would reward us so richly. Maybe the reason is because there isn't as much good material still to be released from those folks. We can quibble over the original albums' song selection but here we have it both ways.
'All the tired horses in the sun. How am I supposed to get any ridin' done?' Even that is a great line. So evocative. Even Greil Marcus has reversed his opinion.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Self Portrait,
I am a Dylan nut although i have nearly all the tracks on this disc already,on numerous other discs,in my opinion the years covered on this "Bootleg" are Dylan at his best.A good disc for Dylan "Newbees"
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb! Brilliant! Amazing! Beautiful!,
You may have gathered by now that I am a Dylan fan.
I have always liked the original 'Self Portrait' album, and have taken substantial criticism and abuse :-) because of this.
The current new collection of alternative takes, original recordings without overdubs, and stuff not previously released is an absolute gem of great beauty and artistic merit. The inclusion of the remastered recording of Bob's (in) famous appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival is pure bonus!
I know it is a ridiculously expensive set, but I count every penny *very* well spent.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dylan shows just how important Americana music is to his own identity!,
[NOTICE: It has come to my attention there is an audible glitch on the 4th disk of the Deluxe version (which is the actual "Self Portrait" album remastered). 48 seconds into "Copper Kettle" (the best song on the original album, ironically enough) the track skips. This glitch has been present on other releases as well, notably the 1980s reissues. Apparently someone wrote in to Amazon to explain the glitch, and their answer was just mention it in their review so other people don't get stuck with the glitch! Mike London - 8-30-2013]
"Self Portrait" has always been one of Dylan's most inscrutable albums, which is saying a lot, as Dylan is notoriouslu difficult to pin-down to any one pre-defined image that his rapid fans (of which I happily count myself as one of them) or his famously troubled relationship with the rock press. Released in 1970, "Self Portrait" follows the very brief 1969 LP "Nashville Skyline", itself something of a head-scratcher for Dylan followers in the late 1960s. And make no mistake, the famed opening salvo of Greil Marcus's famous "Rolling Stone" review "What is this s--?" was by far the general consensus of "Self Portrait", with some going so far as to suggest that the breakup of The Beatles was the end of the 1960s, and Self Portrait was the end of Bob Dylan, effectively ending the two most potent musical forces in the 1960s counterculture.
The release itself is in two forms: a two disk set with 35 tracks, and a four disk set with the complete Isle of Wight on a third disk and a remastered version of the original album on the fourth disk. The four disk set is, like "The Bootleg Series Vol 8", cost prohibitive to own. The record comprises of "Nashville Skyline" outtakes, "New Morning" Outtakes, the long known but uncirculating "Only a Hobo" from the "Greatest Hits Vol III" sessions, and obviously "Self Portrait", with the lion share's going to SP. Despite its title, there is a Basement Tapes recording of "Minstrel Boy" from 1967 included, which from a recording sessions perspective is the single biggest revelation yet unveiled in "The Bootleg Series" - NO ONE knew that "Minstrel Boy" originated during the Basement Tapes era, let alone that a BT recording even existed! One disappointing fact is that some of the Isle of Wight performances appear on both Disk 2 and Disk 3 (if you get the deluxe version of this set) which creates unnecessary duplication of material.
Hyperbole aside, So what does "Another Self Portrait" tell us about the original "Self Portrait"? Simple. "Self Portrait" should have been far richer than its detractors will allow for, that it has a sever identity crisis, and that, of all Dylan's albums, it is a key to understanding and "unlocking" the "enigma" of who Dylan actually is (the answer - a musical chamaeleon, a cultural transmitter of pre-rock American musical forms who inputs little to none of his own identity in his work, only excepting his vast encyclopedic love of pre-rock traditions).
So, what is that identity crisis? Answer: "Self Portrait" falls somewhere in between a legitimate follow-up to "Nashville Skyline", a slight country album, and a wilfully perverse screw-you to his fans. This tension between a legitimate artistic statement and a "Leave me alone attitude!" makes the original release so fascinating. Listening to "Another Self Portrait" is revelatory - it's obvious that, listening to these outtakes, had the album been sequenced properly, we could have had a fantastic, cohesive Dylan album that, while radically from his 1960s' work, would have shown just how masterfully he was at interperting other people's work. "Another Self Portrait" also shows that, at least originally, the project began as a serious album, and not a red herring to throw off his followers.
As is typical with so much of Dylan's output, the outtakes say as much (and in the case of Self Portrait, MORE) about a particular album as the songs that actually make the final product. There is simply no reasonable explanation as to why songs like "Thirsty Boots", the stunning "Pretty Saro", "Annie's Going to Sing Her Song", and "Railroad Bill" did not make the final cut. Dylan's vocals are fantastic throughout; nuanced, compelling, hard-hitting.
Compare these tracks to what DID make the album: two versions of "Alberta" (itself a good song, but the takes aren't really that different to merit the inclusion of both), two different versions of "In Search of Little Sadie" (though with quite different arrangements), a double tracked version of Dylan dueting with himself on Paul Simon's "The Boxer", which is so bad it almost sounds like Dylan's doing a sendup of Simon, and four badly mixed, badly sounding Isle of Wight performances. Indeed, the live rendition of "Like a Rolling Stone" sounds like a parady of the masterful original, a gross reminder of just how far removed Dylan wanted to be from his adoring fan base. Songs like "Copper Kettle" and "Days of `49" show encouraging signs of what Dylan was up too.
"Another Self Portrait" also reveals that "Nashville Skyline", "Self Portrait", and "New Morning" (released a mere FOUR months after "Self Portrait") is much more homogenous artistically than the critics would lead you to believe. The commonly accepted narrative in rock criticism is that Dylan quickly recorded "New Morning" after the disastrous reception to "Self Portrait". "Another Self Portrait" reveals a different narrative however; there is little to differentiate the "New Morning" sessions from the "Self Portrait" sessions in either style or content, with the only main difference being Dylan began writing more original material during the latter sessions (much like he did with "The Basement Tapes"). However, it's notable that seven of the nine covers from the 1973 "Dylan" album (which Dylan has disowned, and was released without his input as revenge by Columbia when he left for David Geffen's newly formed Asylum Records) hail from the "New Morning" sessions, proving Dylan was just as interested as interpreting and playing other people's music as he was performing his own.
So what makes "Self Portrait" so inscurtable? Well, first off, it's discerning Dylan's intent. What was he trying to do, or accomplish, with this double LP?
If you read Dylan's various statements throughout the years, you will get conflicting reports. The most commonly accepted explanation (and one advocated by Greil Marcus in the liner notes) is Dylan was trying to "shed" his audience. Dylan himself said as much in a Rolling Stone interview from 1984.
" I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can't possibly like, they can't relate to. They'll see it, and they'll listen, and they'll say, 'Well, let's get on to the next person. He ain't sayin' it no more. He ain't given' us what we want,' you know? They'll go on to somebody else. But the whole idea backfired. Because the album went out there, and the people said, 'This ain't what we want,' and they got more resentful. And then I did this portrait for the cover. I mean, there was no title for that album. I knew somebody who had some paints and a square canvas, and I did the cover up in about five minutes. And I said, 'Well, I'm gonna call this album Self Portrait.'"
While it is impossible to speak to another person's motivations fully and with equal authority to that person himself, I personally believe that this explanation is reducing the truth about "Self Portrait" to a much more limited capacity than it really was, at least in 1970. Looking back throughout the years, Dylan may have analyzed himself more and more and come up with the explanation he was trying to deal with his frustrations with his vampire fanbase (who he described in the same interview as "sucking the blood" from him), and that may very well be part of his motivation for recording of "Self Portrait".
However, there was always some evidence (on both the album itself and contemporary interviews circa 1970) against that being the only reason why Dylan put out "Self Portrait", and with "The Bootleg Series 10: Another Self Portrait", that evidence has only grown exponentially. Despite what Dylan would later say, interviews given around 1970 carries far more weight, as Dylan himself was closer to the actual event. Like everyone else, as the years go back memories fade and we often forget what we were really thinking, or come up with alternate explanations. In a 1971 interview with notorious A. J. Weberman, who knew more about Dylan's (literal) trash than Dylan' probably did, Dylan defended the album, angrily blasting Greil Marcus. Robert Shelton asked Dylan in 1986 about Self Portrait, and, notably, he differed from his official reason of audience shedding: he said that songs like "Blue Moon" were an expression, and had someone like Elvis Presley or the Isley Brothers had released that album, then the response would have been much different.
Allen Ginsberg, who had known Dylan since the early 1960s, went on tour with him in 1975. A relevant quote from Bill Morgan's biography of Ginsberg is one of the keys to unlocking the mystery of "Self Portrait". "The more Allen thought about Dylan, the more he realised that he didn't really know him at all, and he commented that he thought it was possible there was no "him" to know. He was beginning to think Dylan didn't have a "self" at all".
This concept of Dylan not having a "self", albeit rather abstract and perhaps hard to define in a practical sense, to me brings intense illumination on not only this era of Dylan's recording career (1969-1971), but to the entirety of his career in general. If you accept Ginsberg's assertation that Dylan has no self, the title of "Self Portrait", a double album of then contemporary covers and reimaginings of old folk songs, no longer has the smug ironical tone that some reviewers have mistakenly assigned to the project, but rather a deep truth about Dylan himself that has only been born out in subsequent years. And what is that truth?
Ginsberg was famous for recording his life in great detail, and reading through his works you get a real sense of his life, his personality, and who he was as a person and what he stood for and was concerned with. In contrast, Ezra Pound's first major book of poetry was entitled "Personae", where you never hear Pound's own true voice, but rather a kaleidoscope of different voices and different masks. Even in "The Cantos", other than Pound's economic theories, you will learn far more about Pound's sense of history than about his character and soul.
Likewise, Dylan has always been more a conglomeration of differing traditions than an original force, unique unto himself. The title "Self Portrait" was not meant to be ironic; Dylan finds his identity through his own synthesis of traditional, Americana music. While that may be a very broad claim to make, I am able to provide a good deal of evidence for such an assertation. While not one solitary piece of evidence can conclusively prove one way or the other that Dylan's identity is not his own, the growing amount of evidence can be used in conjunction with each other that, quite convincingly, Dylan's real identity is traditional music, and, with one notable exception, we have never been very close to who Dylan "really is", because he really isn't anyone.
Now, any hypothesis worth its salt should be able to accurately account for various, otherwise inscrutable facts and phenomena. The idea that Dylan doesn't have a "self", or, at least, use his music to express himself (far removed from "confessional" poets like Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, and Anne Sexton, and much more in tune with Pound and T. S. Eliot's historical mode of thought) is quite a suitable framework to explain several otherwise odd facets of Dylan. It also explains his disdain for politics; Dylan was never political, despite what his followers wanted.
Before we examine the evidence, let's first examine the one sore spot in the theory, and the closest Dylan has ever came to his own personal life: "Blood on the Tracks", his 1975 album. Triggered by the disolution of his marriage to Sara Lowndes, the record is a heart-breaking divorce album. Yet even here, Dylan throws some curve balls. "Tangled Up In Blue" is far from a straight cry of pain, and is a jarring narrative that moves all over both time and space. Secondly, "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" is a complex, lyrically demanding story straight out of the American west. However, excepting those two songs, the rest is an unusually straight reading of the pain that Dylan was going through. Jakob Dylan has said that album documented the dissolution of his parent's divorce and failing marriage. The album was wrought in pain, and when an interviewer once asked Dylan about the album's popularity, he said he did not understand why people enjoyed that much pain in their life.
What is more revealing, however, is what happened AFTER "Blood on the Tracks". He recorded "Desire", a deeply detached album emotionally (with the only exception being the last song, "Sara") that delves into strong, lyrical story telling, especially coming off the heels of such an emotionally naked album like "BOTT". Equally interesting, after "BOTT", Dylan wrote several songs that were as emotionally intense as its predecessor but would not record them, electing instead to go with "Desire". "BOTT" is far more an anomaly in Dylan's career than anything else he has put out, with the closest equivilant being "Time Out of Mind", another emotionally charged, deeply painful album. (I always felt TOOM was BOTT aged twenty two years).
First off is examining Dylan's career in its entirety. The early 1960s has Dylan going through his troubadour, Woody Guthrie phase and political protesting; the mid 1960s' moving through surreal lyrical work which is heavily indebted to Beat literature and French symbolists; the late 1960s tapping into that "Old Weird America" as evidenced on "The Basement Tapes" (which, notably, the majority of which is still commercially unavailable), and then turning out a brief country album with the opening track being a rather off-kilter duet with Johnny Cash. Even "John Wesley Harding" sounds much more an aural history of the United States post Civil-War, taping into the vast mythos of the American West, than ever revealing a single thing about who Dylan is as a person.
Post "Self Portrait" (which for reasons of space I won't elaborate too greatly), we have the travelogue album of "Desire" and the incredibly strange, wilfuly obtuse "Street-Legal". In the 1980s, he went through a career crisis, with several listless albums, often blocking release of superior songs on these admittedly drab albums (with the most famous example being "Blind Willie McTell" from "Infidels", itself one of the stronger albums released during this period). According to "Chronicles", in 1988, after a disastrous tour with the Grateful Dead, he realised he was not connecting with his music anymore, and had a personal revelation on how he needed to play and commenced with the Never Ending Tour, which proved to be a true turning point.
In the 1990s, after two folk albums, he released "Time Out of Mind", which Dylan described as a deliberate attempt to make an old-time folky record, like the songs he would listen too back in the 1950s. Every subsequent album (2001's "Love and Theft", 2006's "Modern Times", 2009's "Together Through Life", and 2012's "Tempest"), Dylan plays with pre-rock, old timey musical forms, each deeply rooted in the American musical body of work from the late 19th/early 20th century. Listening to his work, never once do you feel like you're are truly getting to know Dylan intimately as a person (except fro TOOM, the emotional successor to BOTT); however, you do come away with a much deeper understanding of the cultural heritage of Americana music.
We also have the Christian trilogy, which may very well be the closest we get to Dylan as an actual person; religious themes have always ran deeply through his work, far more deeply and important to him than being a mere superficial synthesis of his traditional interpretations of pre-rock music.
In 1997, Dylan even said the following: "Here's the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don't find it anywhere else. Songs like "Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain" or "I Saw the Light"--that's my religion. I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs." In promotion for the 2009 "Christmas in the Heart" LP, he told interviewer Bill Flannagan he was a true believer when talking about "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
I think that, stepping out further from just religious concerns, this quote, in context with everything else, shows us just how important the music of "The Bootleg Series 10" truly is to Dylan. In an outtake version of "Political World" from 1989's "Oh Mercy", Dylan sings the lines (deleted in the final released version) that there are woman, wine, and songs, but without the songs you won't get far in this world, which is one of the most revealing lines he ever wrote. Likewise, the title of his panned movie "Masked and Anonymous", accurately describes Dylan himself, moving through life, inscurtable, unknowable.
Marcus said "I once said I'd buy an album of Dylan breathing heavily. I still would. But not an album of Dylan breathing softly. Ginsberg said in Scorcess's documentary "No Direction Home": "He had become at one with, or became identical with, his breath. Dylan had become a column of air so to speak, where his total physical and mental focus was this single breath coming out of his body. He had found a way in public to be almost like a shaman with all of his intelligence and consciousness focused on his breath." If anything, "Self Portrait" shows Dylan mastering the art of the Buddhist breath.
I always thought, upon hearing Dylan was releasing a bootleg installment on "Self Portrait", that it was an incredibly strange choice, given how much everyone always hated the record (especiallt with the rumoured super-fan dream choice of a "Blonde on Blonde" installment). Listening now, though, I understand.
So, what does this all admittedly long discussion of Dylan's career and music (hard to succinctly compress for an Amazon review) mean for "Another Self Portrait"? Simply this: "Another Self Portrait", appropriately enough, is probably the single most revealing release Dylan has issued, which is quite appropriate given its title.
Decades ago, Dylan gave us the key to who he was as an artist, and we resented him. Now, so many years later, we find Dylan was right after all - he is a mirror of Americana Music. As a critic once said, Dylan has "vanished into a folk tradition by his own making". Vanish, though, is not the right word. The correct term would be "Homecoming".
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