Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1973


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When Bob Dylan released the album Self Portrait, many critics suggested that Dylan was giving a big “fuck you” to all the diehard fans who would have worshipped a recording of Dylan farting in a Port-A-John. So when Dylan left Columbia for a brief dalliance with Asylum Records, Columbia returned the musical giving of the finger by releasing Dylan, a closet-cleaning effort put out without any input from Dylan himself.

It is, to this day, reviled by the Dylan community, and wears the scarlet letter of being the worst Bob Dylan album ever released according to the fans and many critics – in fact, this is the only album in his discography that has never been released on compact disc in the United States. (So, either you have to find a copy on vinyl – you all remember vinyl, right kids? - or pay through the nose for an import copy, though I hear that it can be found on iTunes nowadays.)

But, if the truth be told about this disc – and I'm going to ruin any credibility I had left with the readers of this site – it's not the steaming pile of crap that most want to paint it as. In fact, while it's not a stellar album, it's surprisingly listenable.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Comprised mostly of outtakes from the New Morning sessions (and two leftovers from Self Portrait), and completely made up of covers, Dylan dips into modern popular music from the time (his take on Joni Mitchell's “Big Yellow Taxi”, “Mr. Bojangles” - where, to my surprise, I finally understand every word of that song), classic standards (“A Fool Such As I,” “Can't Help Falling In Love”) and others, one might wonder what would possess Dylan to record these. Was he simply getting loosened up with his band before getting to work on his own material? Was he honestly putting his own spin on these, with the hopes of eventually releasing them? Truth is, we'll never know.

But for all the derision and mud thrown at this disc, Dylan holds up fairly well. Since this particular time in Dylan's career featured him with a smoother voice, his singing is clear and fairly solid throughout (though there is some shakiness at times), and had the album been made up of tracks like the opener “Lily Of The West,” it could well have turned out to be one of Dylan's best.

If anything negative has to be said about the album, it's that most of the performances are not top-notch in energy and delivery, and the whole disc has a bit of a lazy feeling about it, almost as if Dylan and crew really were just lounging around and decided to turn the tape machines on for fun while they played around with these songs. This isn't to say that there is a single bad performance on this disc – even the worst in my mind, “Ballad Of Ira Hayes,” is still listenable – it's just that the disc smacks of melancholia. And maybe – just maybe – that's the greatest sin that the Dylan fans feel this album has committed.

The fact is, whether he had a hand in this album or not, Dylan has put out worse in his career (at least to my ears – I still haven't gotten over his Christmas debacle yet). Dylan might not be the best material he ever recorded, but it's far from the worst, and perhaps it's time for Columbia to finally relent and let modern-day listeners judge for themselves the merits of this album.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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