Columbia has a right to release unissued material by its former employee, Bob Dylan. And I personally want to hear most of it, especially outtakes from the pivotal acoustic albums and the concert recordings. But I can’t understand why the label has begun what will inevitably be a long series of “new-old” Dylan LPs with rejects from Dylan’s weakest album, Self-Portrait.
Bad as Dylan is, it provides no basis for new criticism. It contains only those flaws in evidence on the earlier work, namely the bizarre choice of material, insipid, incompetent production and erratic and uncontrolled singing. As with Self-Portrait, there are rewarding moments in passing, most notably on “A Fool Such As I” (done in his Nashville Skyline voice), “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” But, “Mr. Bojangles,” “Sarah Jane” and “Big Yellow Taxi” (an utter disgrace and one performance that Columbia should have had the good taste to withhold) are so bad that they inevitably re-pose Self-Portrait’s central question: What was Bob Dylan thinking about when he sang this stuff?
We’ll never know, so we’re best off waiting patiently, knowing that Ceremonies of the Horsemen will surely be better than this inept package of a great artist’s weaker moments, best left forgotten.