The full name of this double CD is “Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) The Bootleg Series Vol. 10”. The word “Another” refers to the fact that this album covers much of the same material that was released in 1970 as “Self Portrait” (as well as “New Morning”, released the same year), probably the most maligned album of Bob Dylan’s career. Famously, Greil Marcus, reviewing “Self Portrait” in “Rolling Stone” started the review with the question “What is this shit?” However, his review has been largely misinterpreted due to the power of the opening question. Greil Marcus said in 2013 that this was the only way he could start the review because “it’s 1970 and everyone at the time, anyone remotely interested in music, and life as it’s being lived, was still hanging on Bob Dylan’s every word….and everyone’s talking about it, on the radio, on the street – and that’s what everybody is saying: ‘What is this shit? This is awful!’ So the piece was meant to capture this conversation.” Later in the 1970 review, Greil Marcus writes about some tracks that he really likes – the review wasn’t wholly negative, by any means. In 2013, Greil Marcus said that in “Chronicles Volume 1”, Bob Dylan claimed that “he put this album out to get people to leave him alone. And then that would give him the freedom to find out what he wanted to do, without the prison of expectation surrounding him at the time”.
“Another Self Portrait” gives an entirely new perspective on the material that he recorded at the time. The overpowering strings and backing singers have been removed and what we get is pure unadulterated Dylan. Of the thirty five songs here, seventeen are songs that were originally released on “Self Portrait”, nine were originally released on “New Morning” and the rest were either previously unreleased, from “Nashville Skyline” or recorded live at his concert on The Isle Of Wight. The “Deluxe” version comes with the complete Isle of Wight concert where he performed for nearly an hour with The Band.
The feel of the songs on this album is completely different to the versions on “Self Portrait”. Whereas, on the original album, the choice of songs like “The Boxer”, “Blue Moon” and “Take A Message To Mary” seem willfully terrible, the lack of strings and backing singers on “Another Self Portrait” mean that it’s possible to focus on the beauty of Bob Dylan’s singing and his excellent choice of songs. Jim Beviglia, in “American Songwriter” wrote: “What this collection attempts to do is rectify the errors, in production and song selection, made when the albums were first released. In the case of “Self Portrait”, overdubs added after the fact in ’70 have been eliminated, removing the filter between the listener and Dylan’s raw, affecting performances”.
According to Al Kooper, who played on the sessions, Bob Dylan had copies of “Sing Out” laying around in the studio. This was a publication that, over the course of over sixty years, published lyrics and music for fifteen songs four times a year. In one session, Bob Dylan recorded fifteen different songs, one after another, with no second takes. Al Kooper (piano) and David Bromberg (guitar) are the only other performers we here on these stripped back versions.
Whilst recording his eponymous first album, Bob Dylan recorded a song called “House Carpenter”. The song was not included on the album but was included on Volume 1 of The Bootleg Series. He has a short spoken introduction: “here is a story about a ghost that comes out of the sea – comes to take the bride away from a house carpenter”. This was originally a Scottish ballad and is included as Child ballad 243 in which it is stated that the song was first published in 1812 as “James Harris (The Daemon Lover)”. Bob Dylan revisits the song on “Another Self Portrait” – he takes it much more slowly than he dis in 1961. Al Kooper’s piano is very good and it is clear that he is improvising his piano part rather than regurgitating something that has been heavily rehearsed. Bob Dylan’s singing on this song is as strong as it has ever been and his harmonica playing gives extra texture.
“Copper Kettle” was written in 1953 by Albert Frank Beddoe as part of a folk opera, “Go Lightly, Stranger”. In the sleevenotes to the 2012release, Greil Marcus writes “Here, Bob Dylan really does disappear. 1970 disapperas. The sixties never happened. A moonshiner is telling you why he does what he does so he can lie back and think about nothing, forever. The voice is so clear, so convincing, so plainly the voice of someone who has weighed life’s choices and made his, that it shames your own compromises.” It’s a remarkable performance and undoubtedly enhanced by the lack of the superfluous strings and backing singers that were included on the 1970 release.
Loudon Wainwright III once included a very funny song called “Talkin’ New Bob Dylan” in which he addressed the problems that he faced (along with Steve Forbert, Bruce Springsteen and John Prine) when tagged as “the new Bob Dylan”. One of the verses is “Well, but we were just us and of course you were you. “John Wesley Harding” sure sounded new and then “Nashville Skyline” was even newer. ‘Blood On the Tracks’, an’ the ringin’ got truer. Let’s see — there was another one in there somewhere…oh, I got it, I got it — “Self Portrait”. Well, it was an interesting effort.” The release of Another Self Portrait demonstrates that the original takes of the songs were more than “an interesting effort”. Bob Dylan’s singing is always spectacular and this album is no exception.