Bob Dylan – The Alternative Self Portrait

Is ‘Self Portrait’ Dylan’s worst album release? Probably not, with 1973’s ‘Dylan’ album most probably taking that title (see footnote). What cannot be argued is that is it bizarre, being made up of folk songs, covers of popular tunes, some originals, live tracks and instrumentals. For a man known as the ‘Voice of a Generation’, putting instrumentals on a Dylan record may well have been the first FU of the project. Dylan himself has been a bit dismissive of this album, saying that he treated as an official bootleg as it full of songs that he and his band would record whilst warming up for a session. At other times, he was looking to get people off of his back as this so called ‘Voice of a Generation’. Whatever the reasons behind it, the album was received with almost universal poor reviews. Is the album really that bad or without merit. Music is subjective so I leave it up to you to make you own mind up. What is without question is that there were good recordings from the sessions. It just took until 2013 for most people to find that out. 

That was because in 2013, Volume 10 of the legendary Bootleg Series was released, titled ‘Another Self Portrait’. This included songs that would be released on the original ‘Self Portrait’ and its follow up, ‘New Morning’, but in alternative or demo form. There is a smattering of Dylan originals, songs by his contemporaries and traditional numbers. This was followed in 2020 by ‘1970 with Special Guest George Harrison’ which contained even more outtakes from the same sessions.  Having played through these compilations, I wondered if there was enough material to make an albums of traditional songs. Dylan had come from a folk background (just listen to his first album and the ‘Basement Tapes’) and would return to these songs when in need of inspiration. Dylan himself would release  two album of traditional songs with 1992’s ‘Good As I Been To You’ and 1993’s ‘World Gone Wrong’. What if he had decided to do this earlier? To complete this record, I would not use any of the recordings used on the ‘Self Portrait’ album. 

With the striped backed production, Dylan follows his muse and even though none of these were meant to see the light of day, they stand up quite well. A couple needed to be faded out as the original recordings come to a sudden stop but other than that, the recordings are as they were recorded. With these versions, gone are some of the over top production that plagued ‘Self Portrait’ and the female backing vocalists are now complimenting the recording instead of over powering them. Overall, I believe this to be a more satisfying listening experience. 

Side A

  1. Little Sadie (Without Overdubs)*
  2. Come All You Fair & Tender Ladies (Take 1)**
  3. Things About Comin’ My Way**
  4. Days Of ’49 (Without Overdubs)*
  5. Lily Of The West (Take 2)**
  6. Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie (Take 1)**

Side B

  1. Belle Isle (Without Overdubs)*
  2. Alberta #3*
  3. This Evening So Soon*
  4. Pretty Saro*
  5. Tattle O’Day*
  6. Spanish Is The Loving Tongue*
  7. Railroad Bill*
  • The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)

** 1970 With Special Guest George Harrison

Even though it is a dreadful cover, I decided to use the original artwork used in 1970 for the ‘Self Portrait’ album, but in a negative form. Dylan did produce it himself.  

The ‘Dylan’ album from 1973 is a curious beast, being made of outtakes from ‘Self Portrait’ and ‘New Morning’ albums. None of the songs on this release were sanctioned for release by Dylan himself and it could be argued that he album only came out due to spite from Columbia, Dylan’s label since the start of his recording career. Dylan had temporarily left the label for Asylum Records. He would only stay at Asylum for two records (‘Planet Waves’ and ‘Before The Flood’) before returning to Columbia for ‘Blood On The Tracks’. 

This ‘lost album’ could not be recreated on Spotify.

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