Bob Dylan's Another Self Portrait

Released in 1970, the Bob Dylan album Self Portrait has seen its fair share of criticism and is seen by some as intentionally surreal and even satirical at times. The record features mostly covers of popular songs, renditions of traditional folk songs and a few live versions of Dylan cuts. Self Portrait was recently reissued as part of Dylan’s Bootleg series as Another Self Portrait. NPR Contributor and author of One Thousand Recordings to Hear Before You Die, Tom Moon talks to Cindy Howes about this unusual Dylan album and the newly released material on Another Self Portrait.

Bob Dylan’s Self-Portrait tracks along with studio outtakes and a live concert with The Band.  Tom Moon discusses the significance of the release of Another Self-Portrait, “It’s really a bootleg thing that’s completely different from the original record.  Like the other bootleg titles, it gives us a window into Dylan’s process a little bit and it shows him thinking about his voice as an interpreter of a song rather than both a songwriter and singer.  This is a period where he’s really thinking about himself as a singer and trying to frame traditional folk songs in unusual ways.  Partly this is [an] important [album] is just he’s an  just an amazing singer and some of the very down demo type of stuff on this collection makes that case very well and better than the original album did."

In 1970, when Dylan originally released Self-Portrait he was already a well-established and successful musician at that point.  However, when Dylan released Self-Portrait, people were unsure of what he was driving at.  Dylan had become known for his music writing.  For him to put out an album of strictly covers was almost perceived as him “lowballing” his audience.  However, Self-Portrait does just the opposite it shows Dylan as a scholar of folk music and sort of serves as his ode to the music that inspired him.

Another Self-Portrait is different from the other Dylan bootleg releases, it gives a new incite on Self-Portrait and responds to the public’s reaction to the original record.   “To hear the collected stuff that was left on the floor and the things that teeter out in the middle of the tune and don’t even finish.  Some of those sparks are really interesting and more revealing about him as a student of folk and country,” adds Moon.

Self-Portrait was seen as a disappointment to some.  People thought that there was a lack of effort put into the album.  Tom Moon discusses overall reaction to Self-Portrait and how Another Self-Portrait’s live cuts disprove the general public’s opinion, “When you hear the live performances from him and The Band at the Isle of Wright festival, they are fully engaged, they’re ripping and roaring and I sense that on some of the material that was found from studio outtakes and stuff.  I don’t think it is fair to say he was not trying.  The great thing about an artist whose work is so varied as Bob Dylan is he was capable of entirely surprising people and confounding his audience.  He was willing to do that and has been willing to do that.  This was a fork in the road for him.  He had to sing his hits night after night and I think he was a little concerned about not sounding the same every night and reinventing himself as a vocalist.  And what better way to do that than to kind of come back to some stuff that he knew well as a younger man and some tunes that were pop tunes and he sounds great.”

You can find Another Self-Portrait in stores and online now.  And look for more releases by Bob Dylan as he continues his bootleg recording series.