Bob Dylan’s ‘Another Self Portrait’ revisits material from decades earlier.
Few things prove more revealing than a self-portrait — unless they’re created by a master of deceit like Bob Dylan.
Back in 1970, the great bard released a double disc named “Self Portrait,” an album seen at the time as a supreme act of self-sabotage and chutzpah. It consisted of unlikely cover songs, perverse arrangements and seeming throwaways, at least by the God-like standards of mid-’60s Dylan. Rolling Stone’s review began with the undying line, “What is this s—?”
Fast-forward 43 years and Dylan has put out “Another Self Portrait,” an accordion-like set that wheezes between two and four discs, depending on your finances and attention span. On the surface, this appears to invite a sincere reevaluation of the original, despised “Portrait.”
Then again, this is Dylan, so the surface doesn’t count for much. The set’s first two CDs feature scores of songs left off the first “Portrait,” along with rearrangements of many pieces from Dylan’s next album, the sublimely wise “New Morning.” Outtakes, castoffs and do-overs from several other discs appear here, too.
In other words, this isn’t a reintroduction of the original “Portrait” at all. It’s a broad overview of stuff Dylan recorded between 1969 and ’71, an odd but fertile period.
The result makes Dylan’s original “Portrait” seem more perverse than ever. Apparently, he left out the best tracks. In his cover of “Pretty Saro,” he uses his higher “Nashville Skyline” voice to bring us inside the song’s hurt. The take on “Tattle O’Day” has more beauty and tug than the traditional pieces Dylan put on the original, while his run at Eric Anderson’s “Thirsty Boots” bores a whole new melody into this classic.
Bob Dylan’s new ‘Another Self Portrait’
The rarities from “New Morning” prove even more intriguing. He uses a different talking style in “If Dogs Run Free,” lending it fresh rumination, while “Went to See the Gypsy” gets two terrific takes. The first is more spare, with just two guitars and a gorgeous — yes, gorgeous — Dylan vocal. The second has Dylan at the electric piano in a stop-start arrangement which, by breaking up the phrasing, cuts to the song’s core. A piece left off the original disc, “Working on a Guru,” may seem a joke between Dylan and George Harrison, but it lets you feel their friendship.
Several songs have a more eccentric appeal. Al Kooper, the arranger, shoehorned a charging New Orleans horn section into “New Morning” and a demented string section into “Sign on the Window.” They’re goofy but fascinating.
The set’s two other discs prove less compelling. One gives you Dylan’s 1969 performance at the Isle of Wight with The Band (rickety and unessential), the other offers the original “Portrait,” which, from this perspective, doesn’t sound nearly as wacky as it did in 1970.
But only parts compel. What makes the first two discs indispensable are cuts like the re-do of 1970’s “If Not for You.” Instead of the jaunty single version, this take slows the beat, savors the tune and pairs Dylan’s searching voice with an empathic violin. Consider it the ultimate proof: With Dylan songs there’s no limit to the routes in and out. They’re entirely open, and always new.
Is 21 too young to start looking back? Not for Ariana Grande.
On her debut CD, a singer barely out of her teens pines for a time when she was just a tot — as well as an era decades before she was even conceived.
Three quarters of the disc finds this Nickelodeon teen idol tripping through the scales, while alighting on melodies meant to recall the 1990s glory days of Mariah Carey. It helps that Grande shares Carey’s willowy timbre, as well as her ability to hit notes high enough to excite dogs.
Unlike Carey, however, Grande doesn’t mind leaning on armies of song doctors, something Mariah could well have used. As a result, Grande’s takes on ’90s R&B prove far more tuneful than Mariah’s interchangeable hits.
Ariana Grande’s ‘Yours Truly’
When not aping that antique sound, Grande goes for urban doo-wop. It may be a slick and rootless take on Bronx street-corner music, but Grande’s spiraling voice has enough agility to ease the blow. It helps that she has material as ear-friendly as her summer smash (“The Way”) or the pop “Piano.” In performing them, she proves she can transition to grownup pop star with something far more substantial than Miley Cyrus has: chops.