Reflection for one of the more prolific songwriters of his generation is more an excuse to dig deep into the backlog than anything else. Bob Dylan would provide an introspective analysis of his own life in the deeper cracks of his later work, and the Bootleg Tapes series are the leftovers. The bits and pieces which did not fit the fabric of what he worked on at the time. The Time Out of Mind Tapes are an intense and recent example of this, but the purple patches found on Another Self Portrait overshadow the original Self Portrait in every way. A defiant release and a fascinating excursion into the deeper heart of Dylan and a classy, near-two-hour collection of demos, performances and productions which were never set to see the light of day.
Take those lonely valleys of Pretty Saro, and how they document the vocal change Dylan exposed himself to at the time. Another Self Portrait, granted, does benefit from plucking the best bits and pieces from a few years of work, but they were a cluster of madness for the man at the centre of it all. Spanish is the Loving Tongue, the piano ballad expression Dylan finds himself comfortably shifting toward early on into this collection, is a wonderful treat for the ears. Kitchen sink sensibilities on the drifting of time on Time Passes Slowly #1 is as endearing as it is moved by a feeling of real truth and beauty. Love flows through and it captures something special in Dylan, his vocals are always impressive but here elevated to some new and intense high. Those New Morning alternates do hit with a particular passion on the Bootleg Tapes takes.
Bootleg Tapes are a treat when they stretch over longer periods. New styles are so clearly channelled here, and the switch from those heyday highs to the intentional, massive changes heard on New Morning is a back-and-forth treat which levels any expectation of consistency. All the Tired Horses provides an unexpected and welcome interlude, a track which Dylan does not sing on, but is heard in the usual perspectives his lyrical assertations make. If Not For You is the follow-up tearjerker which sets the scene for the second act of this two-hour album. An overwhelming experience, the soft bass tenderly taking place underneath a song of longing and true, heartfelt love. Early takes, live recordings and anything in between, it all sounds truly stellar and Another Self Portrait has all the structure of a compilation, but all the quality of a greatest hits selection.
These are nowhere close to the greatest hits, of course not, but as the Bootleg Tapes so often proves, Dylan has the hits, and then the hitters. This is the latter. Working On a Guru hits through with an impressive guitar quality to it, whereas the preceding Days of 49 has the confidence and tenderness of all those classics. Such is Dylan and the consistency he has as an artist. Bootleg Tapes are making up for lost time spent in the wilderness of the 1980s. There they were rotting in the vault as Dylan pushed on with Empire Burlesque and such other trivialities. Still, there is no escaping the sound which defined and defines him, as the consistencies of the big band, acoustic and percussion-clad feel show throughout this collection.