I didn’t discover this album until I did a Dylan deep-dive on the blog in 2010. As big a Dylan fan as I am, I had a blind spot for his work between 1976’s Desire and 1989’s Oh Mercy. Oh Mercy was the first Dylan album I bought upon its release, while I had gobbled up his pre-Desire albums (almost all classics) as a younger teen.
A few years ago I made a quick reference to a website called PopSpots, where a man named Bob Egan tracks down and documents the exact locations of album covers.
The PopSpot I referenced was the cover of Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. That was a relatively easy one (the location is right there in the title), but Egan still did a very thorough job of finding the exact location despite 40 years of New York City development.
The album was met with tepid sales and critical shrugs, in part because it followed 1989’s celebrated Oh Mercy, which had been rightly heralded as a solid return to form. Under the Red Sky was nothing like its sonically and thematically rich predecessor.
This was the Bard’s 29th studio album, in his fifth decade of recording, and it’s as vital and playful as anything he put out in the 60s. He released his meditation on death and aging, Time Out of Mind, a couple of years earlier, and people might have easily mistaken it for a swan song. Instead, Love and Theft suggested it was a rebirth.
Before those vocals kick in, we get a full minute of sublime instrumental work. One element of Dylan’s recent covers albums that goes underappreciated is how amazing his backing band sounds. This handful of rock musicians — the same group who back him up on tour — bring nuance and grace to standards that were often recorded with full orchestras.
My #3 album of 1991 is admittedly a bit of a cheat, as most of its songs were recorded decades earlier. But Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3: Rare & Unreleased 1961-1991 marked the first time most of these outtakes and demos were officially released.
This three-disc set covered Dylan’s earliest years up through his spotty 80s output, and found hidden gems throughout. Incredible songs inexplicably left off of mediocre albums, alternate takes of all-time classics, demos recorded before anybody knew the name Bob Dylan.
Here’s a cut from Bob Dylan’s 2013 Bootleg Series release Another Self Portrait, which compiled alternate and discarded takes from the sessions for his most loathed album, Self Portrait. It’s a fine collection, and one that makes you wonder how Dylan ended up with such a dog of an album given the source material.
However, even more entertaining than the music on Another Self Portrait is the comment section of my initial post about this album back in 2013.