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

August 31, 2013 at 10:44 pm (Bob Dylan, David Fricke, Music, Reviews & Articles)

This comes from the Aug. 29th and latest issue of Rolling Stone, written by the great David Fricke…

Dylan Repaints Self Portrait

What is this great shit? With brilliant box set, Dylan reclaims his weirdest record.

This two-CD set of previously unissued demos, alternate  takes, scrapped arrangements and discarded songs from more than 40 years ago is  one of the most important, coherent and fulfilling Bob Dylan albums ever released. The performances are immediate and invigorating,  often in spare, buoyant arrangements with clear, virile singing. Despite the  vintage, or maybe because it’s all been hidden for so long, everything here  feels like new music, busy being born and put to tape with crisp impatience.  “Let’s just take this one,” Dylan says before a take of the traditional ballad  “Little Sadie,” one of 17 raw, magnetic tracks from a single three-day sprint  with guitarist David Bromberg and pianist Al Kooper in March 1970. Dylan was, in  fact, on the verge of a crossroads: the widely scorned double LP Self  Portrait, issued three months later. He sounds eager to get there.

That album is still tough going: a frank, confrontational  likeness of the artist at 29 and loose ends, crooning folk tunes, pure corn and  odd, plaintive originals, mostly through thick Nashville syrup. There may be no  better description of Dylan at the close of his first, whirlwind decade,  exhausted and uncertain of his way into the next, than Self Portrait‘s  opening mantra, sung in his place by a group of country-gospel angels: “All the  tired horses in the sun/How’m I supposed to get any ridin’ done?”

Self Portrait and the country-folk assurance of its  late-’70 follow-up, New Morning, were actually part of a long,  connected act of self-examination and re-ignition. Most of Another Self  Portrait comes from those sessions, highlighting Dylan’s breadth of drive  at a time when many thought he had no direction forward. The horns on this set’s  “New Morning” are busy in the verses but a delightful Stax-like reveille in the  chorus, while a pre-overdub version of Self Portrait‘s ghost story  “Days of ’49” has more room for the haunting in Dylan’s voice. “I contemplated  every move, or at least I tried,” he sings in a moving take of “Went to See the  Gypsy,” effectively summing up this period in a line he then cut from the song  on New Morning.

Dylan was no writing engine that year. The few previously  unissued originals here are quirky pleasures (the shaggy-dog dada of “Tattle  O’Day”). But the music is consistently alive and astonishingly modern. The  honky-tonk walk “Alberta #3” could have been cut for last year’s  Tempest. The exploration of different roads in the same song; the  restorative power Dylan draws from traditional sources like “House Carpenter,” a  song in this set that he first cut in 1962: Dylan still makes his best work that  way. The difference here: He did it, then gave us something else.

A deluxe edition of this set has Dylan’s 1969 Isle of Wight  concert with the Band, a romping affair (excerpted on Self Portrait)  that, except for the mileage on Dylan’s voice now, doesn’t sound that distant  from his shows of the past 20 years. There is also a remastered Self  Portrait, an instructive bonus if you’ve never heard it. But you won’t go  back to it that often. There will be no need.

David Fricke

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