Bad Bob? Another listen to Dylan’s most derided era
‘Self Portrait’, Dylan’s first album of the 1970s, was his attempt to besmirch his image as a cultural icon. It worked. Will the most recent trawl of the archives change any minds?
The first of these features 35 tracks, gathered from 1969-1971 and bridging gaps between Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and Dylan’s next “proper songwriting” album, New Morning (1970). The vinyl version includes 35 tracks on three LPs plus a 12-inch booklet.
The de-luxe edition is the money maker; it comprises two hardcover books, featuring revisionist liner notes by Greil Marcus, and four discs. One disc is dispensable: the full 1969 Isle of Wight concert, which features a rollicking version of Highway 61 Revisited, but not much else that matches it. One is both enjoyable and frustrating: the remastered, slightly altered version of the original album (covers of The Boxer, Blue Moon and Let it Be Me, for example, have been dropped, while lachrymose orchestral overdubs supervised by the album’s producer, Bob Johnston, have been sonically excised). Two discs of out-takes and rarities are intriguing, and are, therefore, of special interest.
There are nine previously unreleased tracks taken from the original album sessions, and, as usual in these vault-grabbing exercises, there are gems. One such is a previously unknown version of Wallflower (a song written by Dylan in 1971, and not released until 1991, when it appeared on Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3); another is Days of 49, which evokes character-driven images cut from the Gold Rush era.
The Bootleg Series, Vol 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)
A different perspective
Whether the whole package is worth your time and money depends on what level of Dylan fan you might be.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Another Self Portrait, however, can be found in the title: it reframes all the fuss, bother and disdain about the original album and allows us to look at it from a different perspective.
Is it rubbish, as Greil Marcus thought 43 years ago? Not at all; rather, it’s a meandering sidebar sketch of Dylan’s love of old blues, folk and country (as well as an album that can be directly connected to his twin covers albums more than 20 years later: 1992’s Good As I Been To You and 1993’s World Gone Wrong).
Besides, within five years we’d be listening to Blood on the Tracks. But that, as Dylan himself might say, is a whole different cup of meat.
The Bootleg Series, Vol 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) is released on Friday. It is available to stream now on irishtimes.com/culture