The latest edition of Bob Dylan’s ongoing archive project, Another Self-Portrait (1969-1971) The Bootleg Series Vol. 10, will probably have great appeal to those music lovers who found pleasure and insight in the man’s return to his folk roots in the early 90’s with World Gone Wrong and Good As I Been to You. The preponderance of traditional folk songs outweighs Dylan originals here, though the latter, in the form of alternate takes and rearrangements from New Morning and Nashville Skyline, occur with more frequency on the second CD of the double disc package.
The sparse stripped down versions of “Went to See the Gypsy” and “If Not For You” may carry more or less impact for those unaware of the effect the second Bob Dylan album of 1970 had on his audience. Certainly its earthy tuneful atmosphere was in direct contrast to the muddled middle-of-the-road sound of Self-Portrait, but who really needs to learn much about or be reminded of the confusion and disappointment engendered by this double set (included in remastered form in the larger package of this title).
Greil Marcus’ essay might well have been edited down to focus on the clarion call of negativism he sounded at the time of original release. As might’ve Michael Simmons’ piece, wherein he overstates, at least a little, the value of The Bootleg Series: after all, these titles tease as much or more than they reveal (why leave “Series of Dreams” and “Blind Willie McTell” off their respective official releases?) and this one is no exception: great as it is to hear a demo of “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” an absolutely guileless solo piano piece, it’s also enervating to hear a single cull from The Basement Tapes here in the form of “Minstrel Boy,” not only because it’s a tune Dylan performed live with The Band at The Isle of Wight Festival (the complete concert of which appears in that larger package and two excerpts here reinforce how poor the recording remains even when processed digitally), but mostly because the near mythic Woodstock sessions with the group formerly known as The Hawks deserves its own exhaustive archive presentation.
All that said, The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 depicts this stage of Bob Dylan’s career as vividly as can be, not just in the music, which imparts the definite sense that, even if the man was not sure what voice to assume, vocal or philosophical, he had a path to follow and find out. And while the prominence of the essays might’ve better been reversed in the enclosed booklet, the photos capturing the Bard in rustic upper New York state environs, on the coast of Great Britain and in the company of Coretta Scott King and Johnny Cash, reveal a man virtually glowing with a physical health far removed from the ghost-like emaciated figure so often depicted four years earlier prior to the fabled motorcycle crash.
Much as it smacks of redundant marketing, there might well have been a single CD compilation of outtakes from this phase of Dylan’s career focusing on his self-penned songs. In the company of George Harrison (“Working on a Guru,” appropriately enough) a horn section that turns “New Morning” absolutely exultant and spare strings on “Sign On The Window” that become haunting as the piano/vocal version of “If Not For You” that becomes wholly shorn of sentimentality, these recordings give the lie to an impression Dylan has fostered through much of his career, i.e. that he cares little for the meticulous detail the recording studio can offer.
If this unfortunately only subliminal message acts as a segue to the next issue of The Bootleg Series, purportedly to be devoted to multiple sessions from which came Blood on the Tracks, then the logic within this ongoing project, subtle as it is, will remain intact and thus worth an approach for completists.