Perhaps appropriately for the final week of this blog, Bob Dylan released not one, not two, but three albums in 2013. Interestingly, none of these had new material – they were re-releases, copyright protection and a new instalment of The Bootleg Series: Another Self Portrait.
As Dylan releases go, Another Self Portrait was a ballsy move. To take Dylan’s least appreciated album – one of his least appreciated periods – and shine a spotlight onto it was a big risk. It is one that, I think, paid off really well. While it isn’t enough to redeem the earlier album, the stripped down and under-produced demos of some of this material provide a context for recalling that Dylan makes great songs, but almost never makes great albums.
I listened to Another Self Portrait today as I took my dog for a walk and I immediately had a strong sense of nostalgia. I like this album much better than I like the albums it actually relates to, and I can imagine that in the future it will occupy a higher spot on the rotation list than will Self Portrait or New Morning. Listening to the demo version that opens the album I was struck by the fact that “Went to See the Gypsy” may be my current favorite Dylan song. It is the one that has most recently been coming to my mind most often, and I think it is absolutely flawless. I say surprised though because I haven’t heard this song in months – Dylan has never played it live. Not once. So I’ve never heard another version on any of the many bootlegs that have dotted my trip through this year. Maybe that’s why I like it so much?
Here’s the thing about Another Self Portrait. It made the uninteresting Dylan period fascinating. Here’s the thing about this blog – for me it made the entire Dylan period fascinating, so an album like this becomes doubly so. I have no idea where they’ll go next with the Bootleg Series. I’d love a mid-1970s one, for example, but I’m incredibly grateful that they put this material out there so that I have three versions of “Went to See the Gypsy”. I wish there were three hundred more.