Album Review: Bob Dylan “Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) The Bootleg Series Vol. 10” (2013)


Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) is the tenth release in the long-running Bob Dylan bootleg series, focussing this time on Dylan’s transitional period between 1969 and 1971 and in particular the albums Self Portrait and New Morning. This two-disc compilation has plenty of variety and is made up of a mixture of unreleased recordings, demos, alternate takes, as well as a couple of live performances from Dylan’s 1969 performance at the Isle of White Festival.

What is interesting about this latest bootleg release was the decision to focus on the material recorded around the release of Self Portrait, an album which has garnered its fair shear of critics, and at the time of its release left fans and reviewers confused, to say the least. The original album was made up mostly of covers of pop standards and traditional folk songs of varying quality and contained hardly any new original material from Dylan. The reaction to this was poor despite the album still selling in the millions, with many expecting yet another Dylan masterpiece after his return post his serious motorcycle accident saw him release two of his finest albums John Wesley Harding in 1968 and Nashville Skyline in 1969. The story behind this inconsistent and confusing release is that Dylan had had enough of being in the spotlight and wanted to escape in order to live a normal life. To achieve this he thought that by releasing a sub-standard album people would go off him and his celebrity would die down allowing him to raise his family in peace. In the end, this decision ultimately failed and the album still sold well despite receiving a lot of negative press. This album seemingly didn’t do Dylan any favors and simply had the effect of increasing the spotlight around him as people became more expectant for the real Dylan to stand up. So it seems in focussing on the period around Self Portrait on this latest compilation, Columbia Records who produces these official bootleg releases is partaking in an act of music revisionism, going back to an album and period which was initially panned (mostly by critics) and seeing if it was actually as bad as made out. In response, I can say that after having listened to this compilation, this period of Dylan’s career was not as bad as has been made out and in fact, I think that many of these new recordings and alternate takes have done justice to the music Dylan was making at the time.

The recordings on this compilation are very simplistic with minimal production that conveys a very warm homely feel. Most of the tracks on here which are performed in a country and folk style are just Dylan singing and playing acoustic guitar and piano, accompanied only by David Bromberg on lead acoustic. Bromberg is one of the highlights of this compilation with his delicate folk touches and country flourishes really contributing nicely to the recordings and acting as a nice counter to Dylan’s strumming and rhythm playing. In listening to this material although they are all old recordings from 1969 and 1970, many of them sound fresh and new as if they could have been recorded yesterday, while at the same time despite the fact that the majority of this material in its varying forms has not been released until now it feels as if you could have been listening to these recordings for years as they portray a comforting familiarity which feeds the soul. Much of this I put down to how Dylan sounded at this time, with his voice in my opinion sounding at its best during the years between 1968 and 1970. A lot of people were put off by his country croon that he put on at times especially on Nashville Skyline, but I feel this added another dimension to his voice which suited tremendously the music he was beginning to record giving it a richly soft country feel as opposed to his early work where his voice could often could come across as a bit jagged and hard-edged.

Coming in at thirty-five tracks I don’t have enough room to focus on all the material on here, but I will mention some of my favorites from the two discs. “Pretty Saro” is a traditional English folk ballad from the 1700s which was recorded by Dylan for Self Portrait and has until now remained unreleased. It is done in a beautifully simplistic folk style and features one of Dylan’s best vocal performances, a definite highlight on this compilation. “Spanish is the Loving Tongue” is a song which was based on a poem from the early 1900s and was set to music in the 1920s. Here, Dylan’s recording is just him on piano delivering yet again another brilliant vocal performance, showing also that at times he had a mellower vulnerable side to his voice and could sing a love song just as well as a protest anthem. “Time Passes Slowly” is a Dylan original which was originally released on New Morning. This recording is an alternative take that features George Harrison on guitar and backing vocals (one of two tracks that Harrison appears on) and comes across as vastly superior to the original album version of this track. “This Evening So Soon” is another traditional folk song that Dylan makes his own and one where he is accompanied by Bromberg on guitar and Al Kooper on piano. Finally, “Bring Me a Little Water” is another unreleased recording this time from the New Morning sessions which sees Dylan mix it up a bit with something I like to call folk gospel. On this recording, Dylan plays piano and sings with a soulful edge to his voice, while being accompanied by some female backing singers in what is one of the best songs on this compilation.  Why this recording was passed over for the original album I don’t know, but I sure am glad we get to hear it now forty-odd years later.

All in all, this is a pretty good release and for me does well to somewhat destroy the myth about the Self Portrait period being a dud for Dylan. There is some occasional filler and the odd recording that could have been passed over such as an unreleased Basement Tapes recording which sounds almost inaudible, as well as a version of “All the Tired Horses” from Self Portrait which sounded as bad now as it did then, but if you sift through this there is definitely plenty of worthy material and stuff to capture your interest. I would also not that much like most compilations this is not a coherent consistent release and as a listener, you should be prepared to go full circle from one style to the next, with Dylan taking you from folk to country to Americana and back again. This, however, does not take away from what is an overall highly satisfying and magical compilation which does a great job in highlighting just how wonderful this period was for Dylan musically.
– Sam









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