Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bob Dylan's Another Self Portrait

I've neglected this blog because recently I was under the mistaken belief that there were more important things in life than records.

During this period I wasn't inspired to pick up many records, perhaps two or three a month. I went on a small binge in the past week, which found eight new records in my collection. One is actually a boxed set, Another Self Portrait by Bob Dylan, Volume 10 of his Bootleg Series (a misleading title since these are official releases from Columbia). This is a compilation of 35 unreleased songs from 1969-1970, most of which were recorded for the Self Portrait album. As Dylan fans know, that album is the subject of probably the most famous opening line of a record review, penned by Greil Marcus, "What is this shit?" Well, it's a compilation of covers of traditional and obscure songs. And most of it is pretty shitty. So, the idea of a 3-lp box set of outtakes from that period didn't sound promising. I bought it anyway. Boy, I'm glad I did, because it's brilliant. What's confounding is that the best songs Dylan recorded never made it on to the album. What's clear is that Dylan's trash heap contains more treasures than the best work of 99.99 percent of musicians out there. Here we have Dylan basically curating and interpreting songs that he finds worth singing and recording. The lyrics are simpler and more straight-forward than his own elliptical songs, if not as poetic or sophisticated. Because of or despite this quality, the songs come across more personal. Contributing to the intimate quality of these outtakes are the spare arrangements, shorn of the overdubs of the songs that made it on the original album. Another Self Portrait goes to show that people who think Bob Dylan's talents lie in his songwriting are really short-changing his overall genius.

1 comment:

  1. Wait, "Spanish is the Loving Tongue" is one of the good ones?