10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A trip to the gallery....,
This review is from: Self Portrait (Audio CD)
Ironic, quixotic, short of ideas or whatever else....Self Portrait is a real mixed bag, whichever way you care to look at it. The title itself perhaps only describes his own highly recognisable brush strokes adorning the sleeve, although there is a school of thought that the music a songwriter covers tells as much about the artist as the songs they write. But where Dylan is concerned, when you start to over think his motives, you are more than likely going way off track.
For the uninitiated, this is an album (an ex-double lp) of covers, self penned material, a couple of knockabout instrumentals, and live performances from the Isle Of Wight Festival 1969. The covers are split between contemporary writers (Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Simon, The Everley Brothers etc) and much older songs (Copper Kettle, Blue Moon). All seem to have been jumbled together, mixing styles - even vocal ones - without, it seems, too much thought into how they sounded together. In the face of being b***legged like nobody else of his generation he just threw it all in, knowing it would find its way out anyway. This, I feel, is why this album came in for such a drubbing on release. I don't think anybody begrudged Dylan a little indulgence in a singing a (mainly) covers album, it was the execution of it which grated; the title of it most of all, which was completely misleading.......Which is all a bit of a shame, because there are some genuinely wonderful performances on here. I won't list them all, but special mention has to made of Alberta, Days Of 49, Early Morning Rain, Belle Isle, Living The Blues, Copper Kettle and Minstrel Boy.
The live performances, as mentioned, come from his Isle of Wight show with The Band. It wasn't the best gig he ever played by any means, but nowadays we can look back and appreciate how historically important it was to be documented; to this day, Self Portrait has been its only outlet. Dylan gave up touring in 1966 and didn't start again until 1974. In the meantime, the Isle Of Wight performance is pretty much all we have that fills the gap for live shows, unless we also count his sizeable contribution to George Harrison's Concert For Bangladesh in 1971.
So all in all something of a curate's egg, but not without some considerable intermittent charm. Dylan is clearly enjoying himself on a number of tracks (on Days of 49, it always make me smile when he shouts 'Oh, my goodness!' off mic). It is certainly not the complete disaster that it is reputed to be. Its failures concern sequencing, a bloated track list (it would have made a very good single album), and a seeming lack of purpose. Given the price it can be obtained these days, it is certainly worth a punt once his bona-fide classics have been enjoyed.