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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
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Record Store Day with the single of an outtake of Wigwam, backed with a SP outtake from the forthcoming Bootleg Series Vol 10, it may shed a little bit more light on this period in Dylan's career. A box of tapes from these sessions were discovered as having mysteriously disappeared from the Nashville studios when they started compiling the Bootleg series. They were found in a barn on a piece of land that some guy had recently purchased. He offered a price that Columbia/Sony was unwilling to pay. But a few months back, they were placed on ebay and sold for something like 30 grand. These may be them. Or that could be just another made up story.
Anyway, prepare yourself for what is to come by giving this another try.
Dylan followed "Portrait" with "New Morning," which features 12 originals, many of them worth the wait. That said, few would take this album to a desert island if "Blood on the Tracks" was also available.
So he takes those things and makes a montage and calls it "Self-Portrait." It's been done countless times in art history.
Well, I kind of feel that's what Dylan did here. Ever heard Doc Watson sing "Alberta"? Or Willy Nelson sing "Take Me Like I Am (or Let Me Go)? Or the Everly's singing "Take a Message to Mary"? These must be treasures that helped Dylan pick his path. And is it not possible that he wanted to tip his hat to some contemporaries who keep the pressure on him like Lightfoot and Simon? This album is filled with tributes and dreams and pieces of the moment. Maybe, just maybe, this album is a precursor to Rick Nelson's observation that ". . . you can't please everybody; you've got to please yourself.
Dylan's voice is in the Nashville Skyline mode for most of this album. Maybe he was just sitting on his porch singing to the moon. Whatever he's doing; to me it's like having a friend share something peaceful and private about himself.