Columbia Records will release Bob Dylan's The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 - Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) on Aug. 27. Below, CBC Music brings you an exclusive First Play of the album (along with liner notes from Columbia Records), and you can pre-order it from iTunes here.
Another Self Portrait’s genesis began about a year ago when the folks at Sony discovered a two-track mix reel in the company’s vaults. The reel comprised mix-downs of the original sessions of the album that would become Self Portrait.
It was one of Bob Dylan's most controversial records, and the first to be uniformly slammed by critics. Rolling Stone's review famously began with the words, "What is this shit?" What this shit was, turned out to be a combination of different studio and live sessions, mostly recorded during a brief period in early 1970 in New York City. Dylan had gone into the studio with David Bromberg and Al Kooper and recorded dozens of songs — traditional songs, a few originals, songs by fellow singer-songwriters and some country standards. Those tapes were then taken down to Nashville and Los Angeles, where background vocals, drums and orchestra were added. The result was a hodge-podge that seemed to satisfy no one.
The newly discovered mix-down is an indication of what Self Portrait might have sounded like without the overdubs, and with some judicious editing and track selection.
Dylan would return to the studio a mere four months after Self Portrait to begin recording the album New Morning which most critics hailed as return to form. The irony, exposed on the mix-down tapes, was that Dylan already had written many of the songs that would comprise New Morning but chose not to include them on Self Portrait.
Self Portrait also contained four tracks from Dylan's 1969 concert at the Isle of Wight, recorded with the Band. These were mixed according to the style of the time and had Dylan's vocals way out front, with very little audience sound.
So, here's a brief sampling of the different types of tracks that make up Another Self Portrait:
1. “Went to See the Gypsy”: This is a song that would wind up on New Morning. Here is the rough demo version with a different bridge that Dylan played at those first Self Portrait sessions. The song's mysterious lyrics about meeting a shaman or seer in a hotel room seem to underscore the journey the singer is going through at this time; he’s looking for a direction and hoping for an inspiration that would point the way.
2. "Only a Hobo": Dylan first recorded, but never released, this story of a neglected homeless man for his 1963 album, The Times They are a Changin'. But it was not forgotten. In 1971, when Columbia Records wanted to release a second volume of greatest hits, Dylan came up with an unusual idea: Along with the hits, he would record a side’s worth of new material; perhaps the first artist to include unreleased tracks on a greatest hits album. For this recording he rounded up longtime folk musician Happy Traum, who supplied the unpretentious harmony and banjo picking. Together they conjure the off-the-cuff, spirited feel of a Greenwich Village coffee house. However, this version didn't make the cut either. Although the 1963 version of "Only A Hobo" was released on the first volume of The Bootleg Series, Another Self Portrait marks the debut of this 1971 gem.
3. “Working on a Guru”: A few months after the original sessions for Self Portrait, George Harrison dropped by the studio for a day of recording. It seems like Dylan wrote this one on the spot, while George channels his inner Carl Perkins for two classic rockabilly solos
4. "In Search of Little Sadie": This traditional song was recorded during the first of the Self Portrait sessions. Dylan takes Bromberg and Kooper through a dizzying array of key changes. In the end, producer Bob Johnston would take these tracks to Nashville and add bass and drums. Here it is for the first time, stripped down and original.
5. “Pretty Saro”: Dylan's knowledge of traditional folk music is probably unparalleled among rock performers. Here, he dusts off an ancient American ballad from the Civil War and gives it a beautiful, succinct reading.
6. “Bring Me Little Water”: Another traditional song, this one done a few months later during the New Morning sessions, with Dylan pounding the piano in lock-step rhythm with his vocals.
7. “Minstrel Boy”: This is one of the songs that Dylan would perform with the Band live at Isle of Wight and that was included on the original Self Portrait. Here's a version recorded two years earlier during the legendary Basement Tapes, where Dylan tried out scores of new songs with the Band. This has never been released nor bootlegged.
8. “Highway 61”: Remixed for Live at the Isle of Wight, Bob Dylan and the Band rocking the 400,000 in attendance.
9. “Time Passes Slowly”: Another song from the sessions with George Harrison. Here they try out a version of a song that would wind up on New Morning. George adds his signature guitar playing along with a classic Beatle-esque harmony vocal.
10. “Annie's Gonna Sing Her Song”: Left on the editing room floor for four decades, this beautiful reading of a forgotten Tom Paxton song was done in one take and hints at what might have become a country classic.
11. "This Evening So Soon": At the beginning of this take, Dylan name checks Greenwich Village folkie Bob Gibson, who is known for his rousing version of this traditional song. Dylan captures that spirit and more on this heartbreaking tale of a tragic death.
12. "If Not For You": The leadoff track from New Morning, done here solo on the piano with only violin accompaniment.
13. "Belle Isle": It's hard to imagine that this is the same exact tape that appeared on Self Portrait. Once the orchestrations are removed, the simple beauty of the melody and the fragile tale of love blossoms.
14. "Tattle O-Day": A nursery rhyme that dates back hundreds of years. Dylan had been asked many times during the '60s where his surrealistic imagery came from. One of the things he pointed to was the old English ballads and nursery rhymes. On one level, this is a simple children's song. Through the lens of the '60s, it's more surrealistic than any of the psychedelia of the time.
15. “When I Paint My Masterpiece”: Bootleg Series Volume 10 closes with this piano and vocal version of a 1971 recording of one of the six songs that was added to Greatest Hits, Vol. II. That Dylan's second-greatest hits record was a double record and contained six new songs was a true anomaly for its time. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” finds Dylan wondering what the future will bring, and still searching for a sound that would remain elusive. This performance seems the perfect conclusion for the set.