This week I discuss the upcoming release of another installment in Sony's outstanding bootleg series featuring music icon Bob Dylan.
On Aug. 27 Sony releases the latest disc on the modern bard of our time - "Bob Dylan - Another Self Portrait (1969-1970)."
This will be the 10th release in the series profiling how Dylan's creative career changed and veered all the way back to when he first signed on the dotted line for Columbia Records back in 1962.
Hailed by a new generation as the folk successor to Woody Guthrie in the early 1960s, the bootleg series has been a fascinating snapshot of how the enigmatic poet/songwriter thinks as well as his love-hate relationship with the fame that's come with being one of the most popular and cultural figures of the past 50 years.
The new bootleg focuses on an aspect of Dylan's phase most fans - and music critics - loathe and derided at the time of its release, and personally, my opinion hasn't changed much over the years.
"Self Portrait," the original album released in 1970, was really the worst record Dylan had made up to that time. A double-LP of mostly songs written by other songwriters, "Self Portrait" almost seemed like career suicide or the coming of a new, lazier Dylan.
The upcoming two-CD bootleg series contains some of the songs from that period stripped of the saccharine Nashville strings and annoying background singing that marred much of the original album, while the series also covers the "New Morning" era, which Dylan also released in 1970 and contained more self-written music. There's also a four-CD package that includes Dylan's entire set at the Isle of Wight Festival - considered England's "Woodstock" - that I couldn't find a retail price for. The double CD is selling for 18 bucks on Amazon.com.
Sony sent me a compilation CD of outtakes and other unfinished stuff Dylan did in the studio along with the liner notes, so I haven't heard the entire package.
But the 13-song comp is infinitely better than the original album, which is sort of a weird, non-cohesive hodgepodge of Dylan singing songs that clearly weren't of his ilk. It's not that the songs themselves are "bad" - but Bob Dylan was never really meant to sing Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" or "Early Morning Rain" by Gordon Lightfoot. I mean, Bob Dylan doing a Gordon Lightfoot song? C'mon.
Critics went ballistic at the time, but in retrospect it's easy to see what happened.
Tired of being the new messiah Dylan simply released an album of mediocre material and stuff maybe he liked to purposely deflate his reputation as the king. In fact, listening to the album today almost seems like a joke compared to the masterpieces he penned in the 1960s.
But once one is king, where else is there to go?
Simple - release an album everyone will hate and then re-invent yourself after being written off as a has-been or a phony. It's a trick Dylan would repeat several times in his career - in the late 1970s with the terrible "Live at Budokan" and again in the 1990s with "Under the Red Sky," easily the worst record Bob Dylan has ever had the guts to make.
He threw critics off their wagon again with his Christmas album a few years ago, but I loved it, joke or not. It's a lot of fun.
The comp I received from Sony contains two real gems - "If Not for You," a beautiful, joyous Dylan song that actually appeared on "New Morning," along with "When I Paint My Masterpiece," one of my favorite Dylan songs.
The comp also contains "Went to See the Gypsy," also released on "New Morning"; "Time Passes Slowly" with George Harrison; a great live version of "Highway 61" with the Band at the Isle of Wight festival; and the traditionals "Pretty Saro" and "Bring Me a Little Water," both of which sound great.
I'm assuming Sony sent me the cream of the crop here, so I like what I'm hearing - stripped down versions of songs Dylan created at this juncture of his career which probably should have been released instead of "Self Portrait." But that's not the way Bob Dylan works. Can I recommend this?
This one might be for die-hard Dylan fans such as myself. I've become used to being surprised by the high quality of unreleased material contained in the excellent bootleg series, so I'm not going to stop now. If you're a Dylan fan, go for it.
(Miller can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)