Bob Dylan Revisits Self Portrait

Exit, Zimmerman
Exit, Zimmerman

Bob Dylan is releasing some more from his vast archives of unreleased material, this time focusing on 1969-1971 songs.

Critic Greil Marcus spoke for countless Bob Dylan fans when he began his Rolling Stone review of 1970’s Self Portrait with a now-famous question: “What is this shit?” The two-LP set was a bizarre mishmash of pop covers (Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”), pre-rock hits (“Blue Moon”) and poorly recorded live cuts from Dylan’s 1969 set at the Isle of Wight festival. Nearly every tune was overloaded with weird backup choirs, strings and horns. “I knew that opening was provocative,” Marcus says today of his RS review. “But that’s what everybody in the country was saying, and I had to reflect that.”

Decades later, Self Portrait remains one of Dylan’s least-loved releases. So it came as a surprise when he announced the latest volume in his ongoing Bootleg Series: a four-disc set called Another Self Portrait, drawing on never-before-heard material from Dylan’s original acoustic recording sessions and outtakes from Self Portrait along with select cuts from 1968’s Nashville Skyline and 1970’s New Morning. A deluxe edition will feature a complete recording of Dylan and the Band’s 1969 set at the Isle of Wight Festival as well as a remastered version of the original Self Portrait. Both editions hit shelves on August 27th. 

The Self Portrait sessions began in New York at Columbia’s Studio A in April 1969, but after just a few days of messing around with covers like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Blue Moon,” he abandoned the project for nearly a year. When they resumed in March 1970, Dylan had very little original material, and he again returned to covers, this time recording with a small band that included David Bromberg on guitar and bass and Al Kooper on organ.

“It was bizarre,” Kooper tells Rolling Stone. “He wasn’t writing any of the songs, which is an important part of a Bob Dylan album. He had a pile of Sing Out! magazines and he was taking the songs, as in the chords and lyrics, straight out of them. They were his main feed, then they pulled other things like ‘Mr. Bojanges’ and ‘The Boxer.’ I was like, ‘Yikes!’ At one point we recorded ‘Come a Little Bit Closer’ by Jay and the Americans. Hopefully nobody ever hears that.”

(click here to continue reading Bob Dylan Revisits ‘Self Portrait’ on Next Edition of the Bootleg Series | Music News | Rolling Stone.)

From Bob Dylan’s website:

In the Self Portrait sessions, Dylan played a selection of songs accompanied by a small ensemble of musicians, primarily David Bromberg (guitar) and Al Kooper (keyboards, guitar), with producer Bob Johnston later adding overdubs to the basic tracks in Nashville. Another Self Portrait presents these original session masters for the first time without overdubs.

Another Self Portrait reveals fresh aspects of Dylan’s vocal genius as he reimagines traditional and contemporary folk music as well as songs of his own. Across these unvarnished performances, Dylan is the country singer from Nashville Skyline (“Country Pie” and “I Threw It All Away”), an interpreter of traditional folk (“Little Sadie,” “Pretty Saro”) who’s right at home singing the songs of his contemporaries (Tom Paxton’s “Annie’s Gonna Sing Her Song” and Eric Andersen’s “Thirsty Boots”) before returning to writing and singing his own new music (“Went To See The Gypsy,” “Sign On The Window”).

While the original Self Portrait was a deliberate act of iconoclasm that shattered Dylan’s image as “generational spokesperson” while stretching the boundaries of pop music and his own, the album’s successor, New Morning, marked Dylan’s return to songwriting. Another Self Portrait gives fans a chance to reappraise the pivotal recordings that marked Dylan’s artistic transformation as the 1960s ended and the 1970s began.

Featured on Another Self Portrait are a previously unavailable version of “Only A Hobo” and the demo version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a track that finds Dylan, who’d been signed as a recording artist not quite a decade earlier, looking to the future, promising that “Someday, everything’s gonna be smooth like a rhapsody, when I paint my masterpiece.”

(click here to continue reading “WHAT IS THIS SHIT?” BOB DYLAN’S THE BOOTLEG SERIES, VOL. 10 ANOTHER SELF PORTRAIT (1969 – 1971) SET FOR AUGUST 27 RELEASE | The Official Bob Dylan Site.)


For the (NSA) record, I listened to Dylan’s Self Portrait today, and there are some glimmers of interesting work hidden there. Maybe when the gloss, backup choirs and strings are removed, there will be some decent tunes left behind. One of my favorite albums of Willie Nelson is his “Stripped” album – his songs sound much better when it’s just guitar and vocal, and maybe an acoustic bass. Perhaps Another Self Portrait will be similar.

Or else, it will still just be shite. Everyone has fallow periods…

and this is good news:

Since launching the Bootleg Series in 1991, Dylan has released eight sets, but has withheld much of the material that fans are most eager to hear. “We’re trying to put this stuff out in an intelligent way,” says the source. “Sets for Blood on the Tracks and Blonde on Blonde will eventually come out. When fans hear the Blonde on Blonde set, they’ll realize that the real hero of the sessions was pianist Paul Griffin. . . There will also be a Basement Tapes box one day. We’re trying to get the best sources on all the Basement Tapes. That’ll happen one day, absolutely.” 

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