To reflect is to react and to react, in the case of Bob Dylan, is to cover civil rights songs. His great ride through the American Songbook never truly has a starting point. It is defined by the likes of Triplicate but began decades before. Thirsty Boots shows those historic patterns in a constant, adaptive style. Harmonica-clad, an acoustic spirit sees Dylan contemplate his own place in music at the turn of the 1960s into the 70s. Right in the throes of a regenerative period for the man himself, the New Morning experimentation around the corner, Thirsty Boots gives Dylan the chance to explore some instrumental clarities and it presents a part of Another Self Portrait. This piece flows well and gives insight into Dylan’s vocal range.
Here, on this cover of Eric Andersen’s civil rights songs, comes a real dedication to form and pitch to make those crooked rain mentions hit harder. Claims over the final verse being written on a matchstick box give Andersen a place in history with a beautiful song, and it is no wonder the likes of Dylan and John Denver found a real love for it. Would Thirsty Boots have improved Self Portrait? Yes. It is by far the best of the bunch when it comes to defining Dylan at this change in tone and desire to dabble in political activism. It was later heard on Desire and has flashes, of course, through his earliest records, but Thirsty Boots feels and sounds as though it were an early blueprint for where Dylan could take the cover of the real world.
Dylan is in fine form for this one and it is a grand shame it was cut from Self Portrait. It features in the bootleg tapes of the here and now, too little and too late to make the resounding impact it could and should have when the pertinent message was still burning a hole in country musician pockets across the country. Folksong wonders of the 1960s are rifled through by those of the time, those who found themselves touched and moved by an encapsulation of the times which they presumably wish they had written. Thirsty Boots is one of many covers which capture the unity at a time when music, for the generations who lived through it, must have felt it pure and rewarding to discover tracks such as this.
From the delicacy of Dylan’s instrumentals to his powerful and clean-cut adaptation of a civil rights son with folk roots, it is no surprise Thirsty Boots feels right at home with the tambourine man himself. Stained and smeared clothes looked on with honesty by Dylan, a softer, soothing tone taken by Dylan, who sounds heartbroken in parts of this song. Laughing children, the next generation as the one above sees the horrors which tire their soul and their boots. Had it been released at the time of its recording, there is no doubt this would be considered one of the best Dylan releases of its era. There is an openness and a perfect mixing lying underneath this Another Self Portrait piece which elevates the song, the original writer and Dylan too, to a new level he would discard for years to come as he continued on experimenting and tinkering elsewhere, away from folk roots.