Bob Dylan

High Water (For Charley Patton)

Composed by Bob Dylan

Song Review by

Bob Dylan's Love and Theft was seen my many critics to be harking back to the fun-filled, slightly idiosyncratic days of The Basement Tapes. While many of the songs on the album reflect this carefree, joyous approach, "High Water" is a song that is spectacularly at odds with that notion. Dylan dedicated this song to the great Delta bluesman Charley Patton and indeed certainly pays direct homage to his song "High Water" (in one of his interviews before Love and Theft was released, Dylan commented that if he could play music just for his own pleasure he'd only play Charley Patton songs). Written in the style of a gunfighter ballad, with the only prominent instrument being a banjo (expertly played by Dylan regular Larry Campbell), this song is one of the least accessible on the album, and also one of the best. Dylan as a lyricist has never been better, and who else in popular music could write lines like as haunting and dread-filled as "Big Joe Turner looking east and west from the dark room of his mind/Made it to Kansas City, 12th Street and Vine/Nothing standing there/High water everywhere"? A lyrical tour de force, it is the song on Love and Theft that sounds nothing like what Dylan has done in the past, yet sounds exactly like a Bob Dylan record. No doubt a major piece of work, it was apparently written quickly, with the finishing touches being put to the lyric just moments before recording. Anyone still doubting the caliber of Dylan's later work should listen to this song immediately.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Love and Theft 2001 BMG / Sony Music / Sony Music Entertainment
Bob Dylan [Limited Edition Hybrid SACD Set] 2003 Legacy 4:04
No Image 2004 Legacy / Columbia 4:04
No Image 2004 Sony Music Distribution 4:05
Blues 2006 Columbia / Columbia/Legacy / Legacy 4:04
No Image 2006 Columbia 4:03
Time Out of Mind/Love and Theft 2007 Sony Music Distribution / Sony Music Entertainment 4:04
Dylan 2007 Legacy 4:04
The Dylan Trilogy 2007 Columbia/Legacy 4:04
The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs - Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006 2008 Columbia / Sony BMG
The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 2013 Columbia Records / Sony Music 4:04
In the Garden 2001 Rattle Snake 6:01
blue highlight denotes editor's pick