Since the 1990s there have been two kinds of Bob Dylan releases. Dylan has continues to record new music, including classics like Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft. But following those albums like long-lost cousins are The Bootleg Series discs, featuring live recordings, alternate takes and unreleased songs from Dylan's long career.
The tenth entry in the series has just been released, and it collects material from 1969 to 1971, the period when Dylan was trying to escape his mystique by recording simpler, more country-influenced songs.
As the title Another Self Portrait suggests, the bulk of these tracks are drawn from the recording sessions of his much-scorned 1970 double album. Self Portrait isn't as unlistenable as its reputation suggests (most of Dylan's Eighties records are worse), but Dylan often sounds stiff, and the production is bland.
But Another Self Portrait shows that Dylan wasn't just sleepwalking through this era. Self Portrait songs without overdubs like "Little Sadie", "Alberta" and "Copper Kettle" showcase a livlier Dylan. There's also a number of previously unreleased takes on classic country and traditional folk songs, the best of which is a rollicking six-minute "House Carpenter" (most famously done by Clarence Ashley) that's carried along by Al Kooper's piano.
Also included are alternate versions of songs from Dylan's other 1970 album, New Morning. Most of these add strings or horns to the original arrangements, and all are inferior to the officially released recordings, save for a "Went To See the Gypsy" with Dylan accompanying himself on electric piano.
Other highlights include a collaboration with George Harrison on "Working On a Guru", a live recording of "Highway 61 Revisited" from his 1969 Isle of Wight appearance with The Band (the deluxe edition of Another Self Portrait offers the entire concert), and hey, they even uncovered another Basement Tapes recording, "Minstrel Boy."
But the heart of Another Self Portrait are the traditional ballads from "Pretty Saro" to "This Evening So Soon" which Dylan has always been able to bring to life better than any of his contemporaries. They show that the original 1970 album was not so much a true "self portrait" but rather an unflattering drivers license photo.