With Bob Dylan about to embark on another tour of minor-league baseball parks, it is perhaps no surprise that his new album, Together Through Life (Columbia), brings to mind no one so much as the late Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige.
Let's say, for instance, that Dylan's topping the charts with Modern Times in 2006 at 64 was the musical equivalent of Paige's pitching three shut-out innings for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 at 59. Then imagine that Paige, instead of retiring immediately thereafter, had kept pitching and pitching well. The magnitude of his accomplishment would eventually be blurred by its regularity.
Together Through Life is such a performance, strong in every way but also, as the fourth installment in Dylan's 12-year return to form, somewhat expected. Relaxed and assured, conversationally straightforward and playfully elliptical, as deeply soaked in late-night roadhouse blues as Dylan's voice, the album's 10 songs contain everything from knuckleballs and changes of pace to curveballs and brush-back pitches (i.e., "chin music").
There are also pitchouts, although the person Dylan catches "stealing" may be himself-the abundant pre-release press made much of his use of a (credited) Willie Dixon melody for the devastatingly understated "My Wife's Home Town" and his appropriation of lines from a contemporary-English translation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Or maybe the thief is Robert Hunter, the Grateful Dead lyricist credited as co-composer on every song but "This Dream of You."
And maybe it's less Dixon and Chaucer than Paige from whom Dylan has actually been stealing signs. "Don't look back," Paige once said. "Something might be gaining on you." From the title of D.A. Pennebaker's 1967 Dylan documentary to the lyrics of Saved's "Pressing On" to the entire spirit of Together Through Life, Dylan has clearly taken that advice to heart.