Few cite 1970’s critically-panned Self Portrait, or even its better received follow-up New Morning, as career highlights for Dylan. The alternate takes, undubbed versions, and unreleased songs collected here hang together better than either of those albums. Self Portrait songs like “Copper Kettle” are stripped to their essence (Dylan and David Bromberg on guitars, Al Kooper on keys), taking on a beautiful clarity unheard in their previously released form. The strings added to traditional folk tunes like “Belle Isle” obscured their stark simplicity.
As for the unreleased takes, it’s amazing to think that this version of the traditional “Pretty Saro” was left off Self Portrait. Its delicate vocal, tipping up into falsetto range at times, is one of Dylan’s finest. A lovely reading of the ballad “Spanish is the Loving Tongue” features Dylan alone, accompanying himself on piano. A version of “Only a Hobo” that was intended for Greatest Hits Vol. II is another go-to highlight. Perhaps most awesome of all the unreleased tunes is a devastating take of the traditional “House Carpenter,” sung with fire and passion (and bolstered by Dylan’s well-timed harmonica licks) and featuring inspired accompaniment by Bromberg and Kooper. An essential track (and for what its worth, the lengthiest of the set at six minutes).
Though the set’s title is an obvious reference to Self Portrait, the New Morning material is some of the best on the two discs. “Time Passes Slowly” is such a great song, but it was hampered by an off-handed arrangement that didn’t make the most of its potential. Here we find two alternate takes, one on each disc, the first of which I swear would’ve been a hit single had it been the official version. Featuring George Harrison on guitar and backing vocals (harmonizing with Dylan on a sublime “la-la-la” refrain), “Time Passes Slowly #1” deserves to be recognized as the definition version. The second alternate take has an intriguingly overblown arrangement that charges in like Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends,” with surging organ from Kooper.
Speaking of Al Kooper, his previously unheard horn arrangement on “New Morning” adds a new flavor to an already great song. “If Dogs Run Free,” once a jazzy Beat poet spoof, emerges as something infinitely more sincere and moving (if a shade over the top). The unreleased “Working on a Guru” also features George Harrison, this time peeling off some startlingly convincing blues solos quite unlike the majority of his work. Harrison’s laughter as the track concludes confirms the song’s tongue-in-cheek nature (as if the nonsense title didn’t already).
The standard version of Another Self Portrait comes in a sturdy cardboard slipcase. Inside is a double-disc jewel case and a substantial booklet with a pair of lengthy essays (one by Greil Marcus, author of the famously negative 1970 Rolling Stone review of Self Portrait) and packed with great photos from the period. Those with a little more to spend can spring for the deluxe edition, which includes two extra discs. One is the complete Isle of Wight Festival performance from 1969 (two tracks from which are on the standard edition) and the other is a remastered version of the original Self Portrait album.