Music reviews for Aug. 29, 2013

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bob Dylan, ‘Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10’

In the latest entry of his ongoing vault-diving releases, Bob Dylan revisits one of his least-heralded albums.

“Self Portrait,” released in 1970, is remembered less today for its music than the classic first line of a Rolling Stone magazine review by Greil Marcus that greeted it: “What is this (expletive)?”

It was hard not to see why. The cultural icon baffled his fans with a badly produced collection of minor compositions, some live cuts, covers of traditional folk and blues songs and even contemporary songs such as “The Boxer.” Marcus, who writes the liner notes for this four-disc set, doesn’t step back from that assessment.

It seems amazing four decades later that an artist of Dylan’s caliber would take such a hands-off attitude toward his art, packing up his basic tracks and sending them to a Nashville producer who adds some truly cringe-worthy arrangements. Maybe that was the point.

Two of the discs in this box are primarily Dylan’s original recordings with several outtakes, most with minimal arrangements. They’re almost uniformly better than what was on the original “Self Portrait.” There are a handful of interesting curios: a version of “If Not for You” with a haunting violin accompaniment, an unreleased studio session with George Harrison and a full band version of “I Threw It All Away.”

Disc three is a recording of the 1969 concert at the Isle of Wight festival, which interrupted a period of seclusion for Dylan. Hard to go wrong with a recording of Dylan performing with The Band, but the performance has a tentative, almost rushed feel to it.

Although the “Self Portrait” sessions seemed strange at the time, Dylan’s subsequent work gives it more context. Still performing regularly at 72, Dylan’s concerts keep his formidable catalogue alive along with an American blues, rock and folk tradition that predates even him. These 1970 recordings make clear that even back then, Dylan was constantly inspired by it.

Marcus has another theory to explain “Self Portrait,” suggesting it was Dylan’s attempt to step away from people who worshipped him as a musical genius. “He was trying to quit, but no one would accept his resignation,” he wrote.

Fine. Why would anyone want to buy a four-disc resignation statement? Through the years, Dylan’s bootleg series has provided interesting new perspectives on his work. This one doesn’t.

—David Bauder, Associated Press

Goodie Mob, ‘Age Against the Machine’

Goodie Mob was weird when it coined the term “Dirty South” and helped create the hip-hop sound that went with it in the ’90s. It’s even weirder now on “Age Against the Machine,” which reunites Big Gipp, Khujo and T-Mo with Cee-Lo Green for their first album since 1998’s “World Party.”

There are metal riffs, horror-movie string samples and automated voices on “State of the Art (Radio Killa)” and operatic scales on “Pinstripes,” with T.I. That’s good stuff, but it’s the scaled-down “Special Education” with Janelle Monae and the soul of “Southern Girl” that pack the biggest punches.

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

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