Rich Lerner

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It is surprising how few artists have attempted entire albums of Bob Dylan covers. His repertoire of songs is enormous, and he has a proven track record for hits when his songs are taken and beefed up by rock bands. But not even the Byrds ever did an all-Dylan album, and one can only drool at the musical prospect had Jimi Hendrix done one. Based out of Greensboro, NC, Rich Lerner is a folk rocker and something of a Dylan fanatic, having attended at least 50 of his idol's concerts. The fact that his catalog of CDs actually includes a Dylan tribute is no surprise. It is a worthy enterprise, and he deserves praise for taking on what is a pretty tough assignment after all. Dylan is a songwriter whose lyrics are inextricably linked with his vocal style, which in turn was so esoteric that the songs themselves became a direct expression of his personality, the point of view and everything that goes with it. Roger McGuinn's avoidance of Dylan's vocal tone is admirable over the course of his career, yet it would probably be impossible to pull off over an entire album. Lerner doesn't even try, although his best Dylan performances are a cunning combination of a typical Dylan vocal and his own forceful and frankly more honest emotional settings. It is a shame that Lerner did not include "Masters of War," which he has performed live with great impact. Listeners may have their own bias about Dylan's songwriting career, as there is a sense of ridiculous adventure to the lyrics from his golden years that is always missed in the later works, despite the terse understatement that Dylan developed as a more mature performer. "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" or "One Too Many Mornings" will be the favorites if older material is preferred. The band plays these songs very well, really digging into the wonderful chord progression on the former classic. As if Dylan was actually watching over the proceedings himself, the CD really comes to life when a particularly fine song structure or lyric takes hold. In these moments Lerner becomes linked to the same great creative stream that produced Dylan, and no longer just sounds like somebody doing a cover version at an open stage.

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