So, there’s this guy called Bob Dylan and, across just seven years in the 1960s, he’d released nine albums that were already legendary. The Times They Are a-Changin’, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde… yeah, you know them all. But then, at the start of the 1970s, came his Self Portrait. With a title like that, it promised to be mythic and definitive, except it wasn’t. It was a pick ‘n’ mix of country standards, concert snippets and Simon & Garfunkel covers. Dylan subsequently distanced himself from this weird confection.
But, through these hindsight goggles I’m wearing, Self Portrait doesn’t look half so bad now. We’ve grown used to seeing Dylan’s entire career as a sort of pick ’n’ mix, let alone one album. Much of the joy is in digging out the alternate versions, the rarities, the influences, and chewing over them until our taste buds burst. Self Portrait was, in various ways, a miniature version of what was to come.
Which brings us to the latest release in Dylan’s famous bootleg series, this one called Another Self Portrait. This is a double album of recordings made around the time of the original Self Portrait; this might make it sound like one for the Bobsessives, but it’s also something more than that. From a piano-and-guitar version of the folk staple ‘Railroad Bill’ to a sparser presentation of ‘Copper Kettle’, many of these songs have a simplicity and clarity that the original album lacked. It’s easier to see this portrait’s subject for who he is — or at least who he was, back then.