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Bob Dylan – Another Self Portrait (Deluxe)

August 30, 2013

Another Self Portrait

Several weeks ago I blogged in anticipation of this release.  Reading about this release had me reevaluating Dylan’s Self Portrait – one of his most bewildering albums in his long and distinguished career (that has had a few head-scratchers – can you say “born again”).  Well it is finally here and I have been listening all week.  I was torn with what edition to buy – do I go cheap and get the standard edition for twenty bucks, the LP for seventy or the deluxe CD box for a spendy C Note?  I splurged and got the deluxe (I picked up the LP too, but I am afraid to open it).

First the deluxe is a beautiful package – two hardcover mini coffee table books and four CDs: The double standard CD,  Bob Dylan & The Band at the Isle of Wight (August 31, 1969) and a remastered Self Portrait.  The Greil Marcus (author of the notorious “What is this shit?” 1970 Self Portrait review in Rolling Stone) revisionist review is outstanding.  Great photos and cool artifacts like photos of the original tape reals.

dylan-another-self-portrait-deluxe

OK – but it is about the music right?  Yes it is.

The Two CD’s that make up Another Self Portrait is some of the most passionate and excellent singing of Bob’s career.  There is folk Dylan, rock and roll Dylan and country Bob (the Nashville Skyline croon).  Honestly I have not heard Bob sing this well across a full album let alone a double one.  He sang this well on the original Self Portrait, but his singing got lost in the distraction of what seemed over produced at the time (I have a revised and enlightened opinion now) and the eclectic nature of the material (again it now makes sense 40 plus years after the fact).

I have been listening all week and each listen reveals new nuances of Dylan’s voice and nods of agreement with his repertoire: Public Domain folk songs, remakes of his own classics, new Dylan tunes and covers.  If there is one recurring theme, it is the sheer joy in the performances – Bob is having the time of his life and grinning from ear to ear.  On paper some of his song choices seem like hipster irony, but I am pretty sure he just plain loves these songs and does not give a damn.

The live Isle of Wight concert is pretty damn cool.  The original Self Portrait teased us with a few gems, but this airs it all out.  This is the Nashville Skyline crooning Dylan covering his hits with his greatest back up band (The Band).  This CD alone had me dropping the C Note.

The remastered Self Portrait sounds immaculate.  I have listening to an old worn vinyl edition and a Spotify edition – so this is a great improvement on both.  But most of all this strange album makes sense now in a way it never did for all those years.  Part of it is Dylan’s late career where we have seen what devotion he has to old songs and our understanding that he seems to have internalized everything he has ever heard.  In the rear view mirror we better understand the madness of the 60s and how brilliant Dylan was for dropping out and ignoring pop culture by immersing himself in Americana.  But mostly it is the back story that is revealed in Another Self Portrait that puts it all in perspective.

Now all of this has to be taken with a grain of salt because I am a crazy Dylan fan who would likely listen to Bob fart and think it genius.  So you may listen and wonder what the hell is wrong with me.  So dip you toe into it with a free listen of the 15 song sampler on Spotify.  If you dig that you can take the plunge.

The Dylan Bootleg series has been an amazing treasure chest.  What is best, and kind of maddening, is that Team Dylan has never gone for the obvious, but instead mined where you would never have thought to look – like Dylan in 1970 – when the critics thought he had lost his mind or was performing an elaborate put on.  Yet despite being odd, Self Portrait sold 3 million albums back in the day, not bad for a lark.

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