New "Bootleg Series" Edition Revisits Reviled Period for Bob Dylan
By Bob Ruggiero
John Cohen Dylan during the Self Portrait/New Morning era
Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)
The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10
"What is this shit?"
It is the most famous review opening line in all of rock journalism. And it was penned by Rolling Stone's Greil Marcus in 1970 in an attempt to explain the unexplainable Bob Dylan Self Portrait double album to an audience still desperate for the Bard of Hibbing to claim his "spokesman for a generation" title.
But Dylan himself was just as uninterested in that moniker--or any other--in '70 as he was in '62. And Self Portrait's oddball, hodgepodge collection of folk and pop covers, instrumentals, live cuts, and weak originals (jacketed with a hideous painting by Dylan) remains the most reviled release in his catalogue.
See also: Five Great Albums That Got Scrapped
At the time, it was viewed as a deliberate slap in the face to his fans, and in subsequent interviews and his own book, Chronicles, Dylan doesn't exactly contest that theory.
So it's not surprising the announcement that the latest version in Dylan's Bootleg Series would be dedicated mostly to the 1970-71 recording sessions that produced both Self Portrait and better follow up New Morning was met with equal derision.
Yet, amazingly, the demos, alternate takes, unreleased tracks, and different arrangements of released material here go a long way toward acting not only as a mea culpa, but to spotlight the talent of Dylan's then musicians du jour guitarist David Bromberg and keyboardist Al Kooper.
And while the material doesn't support the fawning over some critics have already given it (we're talking to you, David Fricke), it does go a long way in showing vision to what Self Portrait could have been.
Most numbers are sung in a version of the "country crooning" voice that Dylan debuted on Nashville Skyline and unconvincingly told interviewers he got as a result of quitting smoking.
Highlights include unreleased tracks that could have come from a stripped-down Basement Tapes or John Wesley Harding session (a gentle "Pretty Saro," the lilting "Annie's Going to Sing Her Song," the buoyant "Thirsty Boots," and the plaintive and epic "House Carpenter").