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Crate Digger’s Gold: Bob Dylan – Self Portrait

July 21, 2013

dylan self portrait

I received an email from this past week announcing that the tenth volume of the bootleg series will be released in late August – Another Self Portrait.

Really?  Not The Complete Blood on the Track Sessions or Dylan Live with Tom Petty or the definitive edition of The Basement Tapes?  No the Columbia vaults have been mined to flesh out one of the most baffling releases of Dylan’s career.  When Self Portrait was released in in 1970 it was famously reviewed by Dylanologist Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone with the opening sentience “What is this shit?”

When I ventured on to Self Portrait thirty plus years ago I was unaware of the legend of the album.  I was still a fledgeling Dylan fan only knowledgeable about his most popular material.  I remember opening the gate-fold of the double album and being amazed by the credits: produced by Highway 61 Revisted’s Bob Johnston, The Band, David Bromberg, various Nashville session cats – wow this was going to awesome.

The album opens with “All The Tired Horses” which is a Nashville saccharine female backup choir repeating a simple lyric – Dylan’s voice does not even grace the track – “what is this shit” indeed.

I was on bike ride yesterday listening to the sensational new Laura Marling album (hope to have a post on that LP soon)  –  which has an “It ain’t me babe” Dylan quote in the song “Master Hunter.”  That quote had me recalling the email of the new 4-CD Another Self Portrait coming out in late August and so I decided to give Self Portrait a fresh listen – I bet it is 15 years since I have listened to it – all I could remember was the cover (original painting by Bob), that it was weird and one kick ass rock and roll song: “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo).  Thank goodness for Spotify – I dialed up Self Portrait and gave it a listen.  When I got home I gave it second listen on vinyl.

Shocking it did not sound weird – it sounded great.  After 35 years of listening to Dylan and his many career twists and turns this album sounded oddly legit.  It mixed late 60’s pop country, a diverse set of Dylan voices: folk Dylan, Nashville Skyline Dylan, rock and roll Dylan and some cool mutations of those three voices.  The album does not have a coherent feel – it is more like you have stumbled into the cluttered closet of Dylan’s late 60s mind (when he had heroically flipped off the counter culture at the height of his success) – yes a self-portrait of the artist who takes himself less seriously than his fans.  There is a wonderful whimsy to the album.

Dylan throws in covers and mixes in are a couple of live tracks with Dylan and The Band circa 1969 (Like a Rolling Stone. The Mighty Quinn, Mistrial Boy,  and She Belongs To Me).  Dylan’s duets the classic voice with the Nashville Skyline voice in cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.”  I am not sure if that is brilliant or merely a novelty or a joke.    As I mentioned earlier there is the raucous rock and roll masterpiece: “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo) – which is Dylan and The Band punkishly and brilliantly stumbling like drunks returning home from the pub – not that far from The Replacements’ territory.

In the review mirror of Dylan’s full career, Self Portrait makes some twisted sense and stands the test of time.  More importantly it has me anticipating Bootleg Volume 10.  Every volume has been enlightening and worth every penny – so I assume this one will too.

  1. I’m moving to Minny and getting in on this “Crate digging” thing

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Bob Dylan – Another Self Portrait (Deluxe) | Axl's Catch Groove

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