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Album review: Bob Dylan “The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)” (Folk Radio UK)

September 11, 2013

Bob Dylan

Growing up, many of us must have daydreamed about becoming successful, professional musicians. What could be better? Instead of the 9 to 5 drudgery that our elders were mapping out for us, we’d be keeping those rock’n’roll hours (but hopefully not the consequent “early graves without flowers”, to borrow a line from the late, great Lowell George), world tours playing nightly to capacity crowds and, of course, endless days and nights in the studio, recording songs for the next album. Sadly this lifestyle only ever materialised for a select few, who also discovered that maybe it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Sometimes this might lead to a very public crash and burn, sometimes there might be a gradual disappearance from the public gaze and sometimes, for some, it would result in a period of reflection, an amount of personal regrouping and rebuilding and a return to one’s musical roots.

This latter state seems to have been where Bob Dylan found himself in 1970 when he started recording the material which was to become Self Portrait – possibly one of his most controversial releases. Featuring mostly cover versions of other people’s songs, its working title, “according to one of the musicians involved, might have been Folk Songs of America” [The Guardian – Bob Dylan: facing the music]. It was recorded at a time when Dylan found himself at something of a crossroads, both artistically and personally; it was perhaps a deliberate act of iconoclasm and the result, whether intentional or not, was a slew of mixed reviews expressing the considerable disappointment felt by many.

However, hindsight is inevitably 20/20 and the recent release of The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) offers the chance to reconsider Self Portrait some 40 years after the event. A 2CD compilation of previously unreleased demos and alternate takes (from the sessions for Self Portrait and New Morning) serves up a wealth of material. Much of this collection may be of more interest to the diehard fan; you wonder why Days of ’49 and Copper Kettle (both sounding much better for losing the overdubs) and the version of New Morning with horn section overdubs didn’t make it to the respective original releases, while the unreleased Pretty Saro is quite lovely. Nevertheless, there are still tracks that are likely to capture the interest of the casual listener: Alberta #3 and Working on a Guru (with George Harrison on guitar), for example, are eminently listenable Dylan recordings.

However, for me, the real highlight – as with the recent reissue of Fairport Convention’s Rising For The Moon – is the bonus CD that comes with the Deluxe Edition containing the complete comeback show by Bob Dylan, backed by The Band, from the 1969 Isle Of Wight festival. A handful of the songs from the show appeared on Self Portrait and it’s a treat to hear the whole set at last, of particular note is a blistering version of Highway 61 Revisited.

Another Self Portrait maintains the high standards of the long-running Bootleg Series with the additional material enabling fans to find a new perspective on one of his most controversial albums and it’s clear that, despite everything else that was going on at the time – and contrary to widespread opinion – Dylan was as creative and prolific as ever.

Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (11 September 2013)

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