Roger McGuinn, who in the early '60s graced rock with the gentle intelligence of folk music, has defused the folk-rock of the Byrds and returned to the primitive enthusiasm of his youth. McGuinn, opening a two-night stint at the Cellar Door yesterday, has survived the rock wars and reappeared as a solo, acoustic folk singer, simplifying his deeply satisfying repertoire by easing it into a new, personal traditionalism.
With childlike innocence, McGuinn paraded past the stations of his career with characteristic gentleness and warmth. For instance, only Dylan sings Dylan better. In "My Back Pages," All I Really Wanna Do," "Positively 4th Street," the Byrds' breakthrough "Mr. Tambourine Man" and the obscure "Up to Me," McGuinn showcased his unique ability to get inside Dylan's lyrics and phrasing. His own songs were outstanding as well: "Ballad of Easy Rider," "Making Movies" and "Take Me Away" displaying a soaring lyrical emphasis, while "Bagful of Money" and "Draggin' Across the USA" confirmed the jolly Roger.
Spicing up a long set with a dollop of traditional ballads and broadsides, McGuinn surrounded his unmistakable tenor (with its slightly wavering pitch) with superb 12-string accompaniment. His music suggests a flowing tranquility and the comfort of simplicity.