Over forty years down the road, the answer to Greil Marcus’ immortal question, ‘What is this shit?!’, has finally been answered.
When the original ‘Self Portrait’ studio album had been released, Dylan was struggling to shake off his ‘Voice Of A Generation’ persona, finding ways to disquiet and mislead his fanatical audience, including ‘switching on the power’ during his performance at 1965 Newport Folk Festival to leave a profusion of disconcerted fans booing Dylan off the stage. So, in 1970, when ‘Self Portrait’ finally streamed across nations alike, it was no surprise that enough ambiguity and differentiation of judgement, on Dylan’s behalf, had risen in the minds of those 1960’s baby boomer beat-nicks to cause a flood of disgusted, distressed and discomposed critics to take a slashing at the piece of work.
Marcus’ ”What is this shit” has be hailed as the quote which imprisons the general, collective outlook which sharpshooters took against the album, some forty year journey of rhythm and rhyme and it seems that ol’ Zimmy has come up with the answer, in the form of a revived series of abandoned events. ‘Another Self Portrait’ travels back down the highways and byways of the history of American music, embracing red, white and blue stripped snippets of beat-down bootlegs with a somber undertone of naked serenity.
Naked is the definite word to describe this second hit of choral cocaine, after the 21st century was dosed with ‘Dylan’ back in 2007, and ‘Tempest’ in 2013, it’s hard to see how any digital-age descendants could contextually understand this curly haired, husky voiced, musical nomad’s importance to current pop culture and post-revolutionist metamorphosis of the song’s we know and love today, yes, ofcourse Dylans latter albums had the substance needed to still attract, hook and amaze any unique or familiar listener, but they couldn’t quite carry a harder, meatier mass to them which would both excite and apprise the ears of today. ‘Another Self Portrait’ drills right into the heart of Dylan’s complexity and puts it into the hands of modern day youth – of-course, t0 explain the significance of Bob Dylan to the unknown, you could just as easily spend 3 minuets spinning the likes of ‘The Times They Are A Changing’, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ or ‘Masters Of War’, but the times have changed once again, the worries of today are not those which were present in the years of the early 1960’s, ‘Self Portrait’, in all it’s glory, was for the most part unpolitical, with no bitter directive or hidden agenda, the album arrays Dylan’s artistry as a poet and a musician without soul shuddering slap in the face which spirals your own journey of self-discovery, but instead invites you to Dylan’s own trials and tribulations. Just like it’s precede, ‘Another Self Portrait’ plays the role of the most dis-contemporary contemporary album prevailing listeners have heard, luckily it seems almost half a century on, we’re smart enough to hail it when we have the chance.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of the album, what’s changed? what’s stayed? what set’s it apart from any other crooners attempt to rake in more publicity with a revisit to their rusted relics?
The first song from the album, a demo version of ‘I Went To See The Gypsy‘ promptly sets you up for what to expect from the album, as he takes his draft from album ‘New Morning’, and gives the song a whole new life. ‘..Gypsy‘ is completely torn down of it’s previous jazz style, ballroom-esqu river of steady, soul infused percussive beats and chirping piano progressions, to be turned into an acoustic, late-night bar side style melody. ‘How are you he asked of me, and i asked the same of him’ Dylan elegantly serenades with no strain or level of exertion we had be exposed to years before.
Somehow, Dylan still managed to make these vintage fragments of the past sound fresh, uplifting and inspiring. This recall of dylan’s work makes you wonder how after the 60’s were over, every decade felt the need to throw their own hero to the top of the stations and crown him as ‘The New Dylan’, It seems the Dylan we all know and love was, is and will always be with us through the power and passion of harmonious articulation and enlivening rhythmic melodies.
On the album also appears previously unreleased artifacts of Dylan’s body of craftsmanship, ‘Pretty Saro‘, ‘This Evening So Soon‘ and ‘Working On A Guru‘ are three of the unheard hidden gems which listeners of the album were left to feel compelled by.
Bob Dylan himself was uttered this phrase ”Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.”, and although their is a world of us out there whom are lucky enough to rejoice in our memories of Bob’s first decade in the spotlight, and the swinging sixties – the cheap psychedelics, the free sex and the electrifying music, there also stands whole generations of us who can only pray to be graced by heaven with remnant recollections of the life, music and times of the folk-rock god himself. ‘Another Self Portrait’ is the exact album which any self respecting music fan launched into the days of fast paced living, and even faster downloads, want in their music collection.
Enough about the kids of today and the importance of this album to the year of 2013, this album has as much significance to any deep-rooted Dylan fan of the glory days as it does to anybody else. For those who had already fell in-love with Dylan’s ‘Self Portrait’ and ‘New Morning’ upon hearing their original release, ‘Another Self Portrait’ act’s almost as a completely new piece of work. The juxtaposition of the album is what makes the work so interesting for historical fans, when listening to Dylan’s soft and rounded vocals you’re transposed back to a time somewhere between your journey from 1963’s ‘Bob Dylan’ and 1969’s ‘Nashville skyline’, while you are also being oozed into a world of unknown, a new land which boots have not trenched before, you’re in a state of inexperienced and modernistic bliss, it’s unusual but in the sweetest way. By digging up these golden heirlooms listeners are, on one hand, able to discover a crisp wave of inspiration from their perpetual hero, to be made anew to a side of Dylan they thought they had forgotten or opened up to one they never even new, while also being provided with a damn good record to submerge back in, light a joint and remember the good old days, remember how the sound of your favorite album made you feel like king of your jukebox, or queen of your record machine, how music never sounded so sweet.
If there is only one reason why ‘Another Self Portrait’ has earned it’s spot as number five in our Album Of The Year List, it’s for the giant middle finger it’s enabled Mr Bob Dylan to so gracefully give to all the ill talking detractors who repelled to ride the tide of tranquility, to marvel at their messiahs mastery over forty years, up the road.
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