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The trouble with being the messiah...
on 21 December 2014
is that the crowd that was shouting Hossanah" as you rode into town on Sunday is the same crowd shouting "Crucify him" on Friday.
It's impossible in 2014 to appreciate how Self Portrait would have been received in 1970 by the typical, adoring, Dylan fan. I was only two years old at the time, so don't look to me for an opinion. Listening in 2014 I can say it is clearly simply not up to scratch as an album for an artist of Dylan's caibre. It has an easy listening vibe in places and an unlistenable vibe in others. Anyone looking for a poetic critique of American culture or big statements about life would have been very disappointed.
Griel Marcus claims in his new essay that when he wrote 'that' review in 1970, he was asking the question that most Dylan fans were asking. I don't see any reason to doubt him when I listen to the newly remastered album in this set. It is far from being a good Dylan album, let alone a great one. The Boxer, which was a fairly recent hit for Simon and Garfunkel at the time, is woeful. Early Morning Rain, Blue Moon, Take a Message to Mary are just pedestrian. There are some highlights such as All The Tired Horses and Days of 49. The live tracks are not particularly good.
So thats one disc of the 'deluxe edition' dealt with.
The two standard discs of this Bootleg are, as usual a mixed bag. Some of the stripped down Self Portrait songs do sound better. If Dogs Run Free without the scat singing is MUCH better. Griel Marcus gives some attention to Searching for Little Sadie and claims it as classic Dylan. I can't say I agree, it is a trial run of a singer struggling to work out how to perform a song and just not getting it. Bob Johnson, the producer here, could have just played Dylan the version that he had recorded at Folsom Prison a year earlier as producer for Johnny Cash (under the name Cocaine Blues) and told Dylan not to bother.
However, all these years later and out of their cultural context, most of these songs sound fairly good and for us Dylan fans it's good to have them. It's particularly good to have some of the George Harrison sessions, but adding a Basement track (Minstrel Boy) seems odd. Presumably included because it features on Self Portrait as a live cut. But the compilers of this series must have known it was due for release on Volume 11.
So the two disc edition is ok.
Then we get to the only exclusive content, which is half of the Isle of Wight concert. The other half is duplicated on the other three discs.
Personally I don't think it's as good as Down in the Flood,and I don't rate that album highly. If you're a completist, you'll want it, but it is not worth the usual asking price of this box.
The books are nice, but the discs are not held very well, and may scuff with repeated use. The essays are in the two disc edition, so it's the book of photos that's the exclusive here. Nice book, but doesn't add much to my appreciation of Dylan.
Overall the main two discs are a decent entry in the Bootleg series, as they cover a period that hasn't been dealt with so far. It's certainly better than the Whitmark demos and No Direction Home, which were desperate scrapes of the near empty barrel of Dylans 1962-66 period.
So three stars for the so-called Deluxe version. The two disc version would get four.