An­other Self Por­trait (1969-1971): The Boot­leg Se­ries Vol. 10

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Mahir Ali

Bob Dy­lan Columbia/Sony ★★★★✩

THE Boot­leg Se­ries, since it was launched 22 years ago, has in­vari­ably served up de­lec­ta­ble, and of­ten ir­re­sistible, of­fer­ings from the Bob Dy­lan vaults. Even so, the an­nounce­ment ear­lier this year that the 10th vol­ume would fo­cus on 1970, and specif­i­cally on record­ings from the Self Por­trait ses­sions, caused some be­muse­ment among afi­ciona­dos. Af­ter all, this was a no­to­ri­ously fal­low pe­riod in the artist’s creative tra­jec­tory, and the al­bum is best re­mem­bered for the first sen­tence of Greil Mar­cus’s re­view in Rolling Stone: ‘‘ What is this shit?’’ What’s more, Dy­lan him­self has been fairly de­risory in his rec­ol­lec­tions of it, dis­miss­ing it as ‘‘ a joke’’ in one in­ter­view, and not­ing in his mem­oir, Chron­i­cles: ‘‘ I just threw ev­ery­thing I could think of at the wall and what­ever stuck, re­leased it.’’ The aim, ev­i­dently, was to dis­ori­ent the an­noy­ing fans who in­sisted on re­gard­ing him as a spokesman for his gen­er­a­tion; he told Rolling Stone in the 1980s that the idea was to stop peo­ple ‘‘ buy­ing my records, and they did’’. Yet An­other Self Por­trait gives the lie to the no­tion that it was a per­func­tory pro­ject. The lat­est re­lease was prompted by the dis­cov­ery last year of tapes with­out the sac­cha­rine over­dubs, with many of the takes fea­tur­ing just Dy­lan, David Bromberg on gui­tar and Al Kooper on key­boards — with one re­viewer com­par­ing the re­sult with ‘‘ find­ing a Rem­brandt un­der a layer of crap’’. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but the ev­i­dence clearly sup­ports Sony Mu­sic ex­ec­u­tive and Boot­leg Se­ries vet­eran Steve Berkowitz’s con­tention that Bromberg ‘‘ plays just spec­tac­u­lar gui­tar and Dy­lan sings his butt off’’.

The lat­ter de­scrip­tion par­tic­u­larly holds true in the case of newly un­veiled tracks such as This Evening So Soon and Th­ese Hands, but Dy­lan’s vo­cals are keen through­out, not least on tra­di­tional songs such as Pretty Saro, Cop­per Ket­tle and House Car­pen­ter, and on Lead Belly’s Bring Me a Lit­tle Wa­ter there’s more than a hint of the rasp that be­came fa­mil­iar two decades hence.

Self Por­trait fea­tured four rather muddy record­ings from Dy­lan’s and the Band’s ap­pear­ance — with three Bea­tles among the au­di­ence — at the 1969 Isle of Wight Fes­ti­val, a far cry from the cleaned up and remixed ver­sion of the en­tire set that’s in­cluded in the sump­tu­ous deluxe ver­sion of the new re­lease. The demos and al­ter­nate takes from New Morn­ing sug­gest that, too, could have been a su­pe­rior al­bum — al­though Work­ing on a Guru, with Ge­orge Har­ri­son on gui­tar, is lit­tle more than an en­ter­tain­ing cu­rio. On the other hand, Dy­lan’s takes on songs by con­tem­po­raries such as Eric An­der­sen ( Thirsty Boots) and Tom Pax­ton ( An­nie’s Go­ing to Sing Her Song) fall in the cat­e­gory of gems that would have been lost to pos­ter­ity but for the Boot­leg Se­ries. I would still be sur­prised if the ar­chiv­ists dug up any­thing worth­while from the mid-80s. But with Dy­lan you can never be sure.

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