Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Music Review: Bob Dylan: Another Self Portrait

The release of Bob Dylan's long awaited Bootleg Series Volume 10: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) casts some light on his "lost years."  Upon its initial release, Self Portrait drew the scorn of critics.  Griel Marcus began his Rolling Stone review with, "What is this shit?"  Everything about Self Portrait offended Dylan's crowd: no original material, obscure folk and country covers, and way too much production. In perhaps the most infamous track, Dylan crooned a sloppy version of Simon and Garfunkel's, "The Boxer."  Many wondered: Was it all a joke?  Writer's block?  Did he just not care anymore?  As usual, Dylan refused to provide any answers.

In his memoir, Chronicles Vol.1, Dylan wrote at length about living up to the expectations of being labeled the "voice of his generation."  For his own sanity, he focused on raising his family.  Between 1967-1974, he granted few interviews and rarely performed.   Meanwhile, hangers on camped outside Dylan's farm in Woodstock begging for his answers on everything under the sun.

Dylan continued to write and record music during these years.  Throughout 1967, Dylan and the Band spent months working on the Basement Tapes.   Every afternoon they played whatever they felt like.  Next came the haunting John Wesley Harding and then the country splendor of Nashville Skyline.  Fans were nonplussed at the collection of laid back country tunes on Skyline.  With the Vietnam War still raging and Richard Nixon in the White House, the counterculture wanted Dylan to record more "protest" music and take a leadership position in the anti-war movement. Self Portrait is Dylan doing his damnedest to distance himself from the intense history of the era.

The revamped version of Self-Portrait moves along at a leisurely pace.  Think of it as Dylan unplugged.  Highlights abound from the vaults of Columbia with tracks like "Thirsty Boots," "Pretty Saro," "Spanish is the Loving Tongue," and "Railroad Bill."   Al Kooper's subtle organ solos adds a new texture to the album missing in 1970.

Included in the collection are outtakes from the New Morning LP.  George Harrison, a friend of Bob's, appears on "Working on a Guru" and "Time Passes Slowly."  Years later Harrison and Dylan played together on the Traveling Wilbury's.  On "Went to See the Gypsy," Dylan pays homage to Elvis Presley, "he can do it in Las Vegas and he can do it here."  

Another Self Portrait will satisfy Dylan's admirers and will win some new converts.  For those who are weary Dylan the protest singer or flummoxed with his recent world weary persona - they will get a glimpse of him inventing a new genre of music: Americana. Although misunderstood at the time, Another Self Portrait adds another chapter to Dylan's epic dialogue with America.