Bob Dylan has always been a quirk. I’m not the first to declare that. When the first three volumes of the Bootleg Series, that has now reached Volume 10, were released in 1991 (22 years ago – how can that be!) we realised how many great songs were left off albums for what seemed like inferior alternatives. How could Blind Willie McTell be left off any of his albums, never mind Infidels. Indeed, the Outfidels unofficial bootleg of other tracks recorded at that time, that some of us have had the pleasure of finding, would be a great Bootlegs Volume 11! The question has been for some time, was it a perversity within Dylan or was it very bad perspective and decision making?
Every time there is news of another Bootleg Volume fans have their dream. As I say I’d love the Infidels out takes. I’d also love an official release of The Blood On The Tracks out takes. Then there are the Christian years' live gigs! I might have to wait for that one. Anyway, when the word finally got out that Volume 10 was from the Self Portrait era excitement drained. What?!?! For those who might not be aware the original release in 1970 Self Portrait is often seen as the nadir of a great career. I can’t tell you how many times over thirty years I have dragged Self Portrait out hoping to at last fall in love with it only to quickly put it back in the sleeve and onto the shelf. Surely the out-takes of that record could not be at all worth hearing!
Well, once again, perversity or just terrible discernment? This is great stuff! The demo versions without getting cluttered with awful instrumentation have a whole different feel. Copper Kettle, Days of ’49 and Belle Isle are no longer the performances of a man trying to bring a career and myth off the rails but a man as passionate and focused as he was before and after he plugged in his electric guitar. The out-takes, similarly stripped, are wonderful too – the lovely familiar harmonica of Thirsty Boots, Only A Hobo and Pretty Saro personal favourites so far. Even more there are the alternative takes from New Morning, Nashville Skyline and Greatest Hits 2 - the fiddle led beauty of If Not For You, the piano led yearning of When I Paint My Masterpiece, the gentle country shuffle of Time Passes Slowly #1. And even more is the cleaned up live set with The Band from The Isle Of Wight. Yes a few dodgy versions maybe but some lovely touches too. It captures both Dylan and the Band at a unique moment in their histories; Dylan’s only full set between 1966 and 1974 for goodness sake!
So, against the run of play, Another Self Portrait is an overwhelming success. It is the work of a man who has ejected the madness of sixties' city life for rural family calm in Woodstock but, from the revelation of this release, not rejected his artistic muse.