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Self Portrait stands as a truly perverse collection. Released in 1970 at a time when those on the radical left were hungering for their then-unimpeachable hero to reclaim his role as the conscience of his generation, Bob Dylan instead delivered a pop-inflected collection largely made up of rather indifferently performed covers. Youth culture was at a boiling point and the one figure the vanguard of The Movement hoped would galvanize all those street-fighting men and women was . . . crooning "Blue Moon"? In hindsight, Self Portrait is, at best, pleasant. The uncharacteristically lush likes of "All The Tired Horses," "Wigwam," and "Copper Kettle" are mighty nice, in fact. But then the tepid covers of "The Boxer," "Early Mornin' Rain," and "Gotta Travel On," as well as perplexingly lifeless live versions of "Like a Rolling Stone" and "She Belongs to Me" drag the whole set down and leave one wondering what Dylan was thinking when he selected such a provocative title for such an unrevealing album. --Steven Stolder
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- Product Dimensions : 5.62 x 4.92 x 0.33 inches; 3.84 Ounces
- Manufacturer : Sony Legacy
- Original Release Date : 1989
- Run time : 1 hour and 13 minutes
- Date First Available : December 7, 2006
- Label : Sony Legacy
- ASIN : B0000024W3
- Number of discs : 1
- Best Sellers Rank: #195,921 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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As a PS, I'd like to mention that I recently bought a paperback copy of his book "Tarantula" (published about the same time as this album), which is full of stream-of-conciousness ravings and jottings. It does my heart glad to know that the man who wrote that book and recorded this album won a Nobel Prize, which he was "too busy" to go to Sweden to accept. Now, that's style!
When I got this CD I played the heck out of it for a couple of weeks and was impressed by Bob's performances throughout. It's great: over and out. None of it is Dylan compositions except the live stuff, but I found all of the performances relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable. Its a sort of catalog of "Weird, Old America" songs - music that I have grown to appreciate more and more over the years.
I guess I have come to regard this as one of Bob's best - easy on the ears and done during his best singing period. The musicianship with Al Kooper, Dave Bromberg and others really hits the mark. I'm hard pressed to see how the bootleg could be better, but we will find out.
It made more sense once I moved to Nashville and started doing sessions myself.
Top reviews from other countries
1. All The Tired Horses
2. Alberta #1
3. I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know
4. Days Of '49
5. Early Mornin' Rain
6. In Search Of Little Sadie
7. Let It Be Me
8. Little Sadie
9. Woogie Boogie
10. Belle Isle
11. Living The Blues
12. Like A Rolling Stone (Live)
13. Copper Kettle
14. Gotta Travel On
15. Blue Moon
16. The Boxer
17. Quinn The Eskimo (The Mghty Quinn)
18. Take Me As I Am Or Let Me Go
19. Take A Message To Mary
20. It Hurts Me Too
21. Minstrel Boy
22. She Belongs To Me
24. Alberta #2
“All The Tired Horses” with its gospel voices and nothing more, is a bit throwaway, admittedly, but “Alberta” is laid-back and sweetly romantic, very much in a “Nashville Skyline” way, and “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” is a twangy and appealing country lament. “Days of ’49”, strong, insistent and bluesy, is a historical tale delivered in confident fashion by Dylan, as indeed is the next track, Gordon Lightfoot’s delightful “Early Morning Rain”. These don’t sound like an artist producing rubbish for the sake of it, to annoy people. He actually sounds as if he is enjoying playing this sort of material, as indeed he had on “Nashville Skyline”. The intensity in which he attacks the sad tale of “In Search Of Little Sadie” can’t really be questioned, in my book. Dylan’s cover of the ballad “Let It Be Me” may have appalled some, but I have always fund it charming and disarming. “Little Sadie” is a fun slice of country, acoustic boogie, while “Woogie Boogie” is the real thing - some upbeat barroom rocking piano. Damn, I am enjoying listening to this again. In many parts it matches the similarly sprawling and country-style experimentation of “The Basement Tapes”, which is much-lauded by pretty much everyone. Furthermore, everyone loved The Byrds' "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, from 1968, so why not parts of this?
“Belle Isle” is just endearingly lovely. Just take these songs in isolation, if you have to, forget they are Bob Dylan, the composer of “Desolation Row” and so on. Just enjoy them for what they are. “Living The Blues” is, as would imagine, bluesy. The sound on it is superb, bassy and captivating. Dylan’s vocal is sleepily appealing, as are the Elvis-style “a-ha” backing vocals. The band are top notch. None of this album sounds half-baked or throwaway to me. What the heck, if some embittered “musos” disagree with me, or moaned and griped in 1970 - who cares?
“Copper Kettle” could easily have been a track from “New Morning”, to be honest. If it had been, it would have garnered praise. “We an’t paid no whiskey tax since 1792” is a line I have always liked. “Gotta Travel On” has some intoxicating percussion rhythms and some bluesy slide guitar. This is a very “Beggars’ Banquet”-style song. That album was loved by everyone. If Mick Jagger had wrapped his tonsils around this, it would have been loved, so why not this? It’s great.
The quality does admittedly suffer a little as the double album continues on its way. I have not commented on the live tracks, as I feel they were superfluous to the album. “Blue Moon” is veering into Elvis territory and also the sort of thing Dylan unfortunately records nowadays. Dylan’s cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” doesn’t work as well as their version and Dylan’s lazy-ish vocal here does him no favours. “Take Me As I Am Or Let Me Go” is a steel guitar country crooner. “Take A Message To Mary” certainly would not have sounded out of place on “Nashville Skyline”. Again, though, it is perfectly enjoyable, taken for what it is. “It Hurts Me Too” is a relaxing country ballad. “Minstrel Boy” is bluesy and somewhat drunken in deliver. “Wigwam” certainly is a waste of time, a rather discordant brassy instrumental, rather like a New Orleans funeral. “Alberta 2” is a nice, rhythmic and bassy end to the album, raising the quality back up a bit.
By its end, the album does start to lose its appeal a little. A single album would have been far preferable and could have contained quite a few tracks, as they are quite short. It would not have been criticised as much, take out the live tracks and some of these at the end and you have a reasonable album. Go up to “Gotta Travel On” (leaving out the “Tired Horses”), add “Alberta 2”. That’s thirteen shortish tracks of good quality. It was the adding on of too much sprawling filler that did for this album, not the first half of it.
Self Portrait is certainly different from the rest of Bob Dylan's records, and one track, a cover of B. Byrant's "Take me as I am or let me go" sums up for me the best way to approach this recording.
Leave expectations aside, take Self Portrait at face value, and enjoy the beautiful mixture of tracks that include originals songs, cover versions, live versions and the instrumentals.
This CD is one of a few early Bob Dylan's that has never been remastered, but no worries on that score as it sounds fine just the way it is.
**This review was written before news that a remastered version of Self Portrait was to be included in the very expensive deluxe edition of Bob Dylan / Another Self Portrait 1969-1971: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 (4CD + book).