Bob Dylan, ‘Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)’ – Album Review
There’s no telling what was really going on in Bob Dylan‘s head in 1970. But that hasn’t stopped fans from theorizing over the years that he was tired of his fame and looking for a way out of the mythology that had built up around him throughout the ’60s.
Whatever Dylan was thinking back then, there’s little doubt that even he was uncertain of the music he was making. How else to explain the multiple takes, syrupy arrangements, left-field cover versions and general messiness found on 1970’s ‘Self Portrait’ and (to a slightly lesser degree) its quickly released follow-up, ‘New Morning’?
The 10th volume of Dylan’s terrific ‘Bootleg Series,’ ‘Another Self Portrait (1969-1971),’ attempts to make sense of the era with demos, alternate takes and outtakes. And it manages the near impossible, turning one of the most critically savaged albums in history (Rolling Stone’s infamous review from the period began, “What is this s—?’) into a revealing work of subtlety and transformation.
Most of the tracks here strip away the strings and other unnecessary adornment that made the original ‘Self Portrait’ so reviled. But a few add instruments to the arrangements — like the glorious horns that boost ‘New Morning’ — and the results are eye-opening. Dylan played around with tones, styles and even vocal techniques during this period, so what you remember (or, more likely, chose to forget) is probably redeemed on this rebooted version.
‘Another Self Portrait’ dips as far back as 1967 for an unreleased ‘Basement Tapes’ cut and stops at 1971 for a song recorded for, but not used on, the ‘Greatest Hits II’ album. There are a couple of live tracks from Dylan’s appearance with the Band at 1969’s Isle of Wright festival too. But most of the 35 songs on these two CDs come from the 1970 sessions that yielded the double ‘Self Portrait’ and ‘New Morning.’
And like the two albums that preceded ‘Self Portrait,’ 1967’s ‘John Wesley Harding’ and 1969’s ‘Nashville Skyline,’ ‘Another Self Portrait’ paints Dylan as a rootsy troubadour with an interest in rustic Americana, backroads country music and traditional public-domain numbers. Songs like ‘Went to See the Gypsy,’ ‘Only a Hobo’ and ‘Copper Kettle’ feature the singer-songwriter at his most intimate and open.
In a way, ‘Another Self Portrait’ relates the journey of an artist searching for his voice (literally at times) and unscrambling, and deciphering, what has always been one of the most perplexing records in his vast catalog. There are a few snoozers here, but even the curious casual jam sessions with old pals like the Band and George Harrison find purpose and reason in the new setting. That’s something you could never say before.