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Dion/Joe's Pub, New York/Jan. 9, 2006

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Neil Diamond isn’t the only New York-bred veteran rocker who’s put the acoustic guitar at the forefront of his latest album.

So has Dion, who performed material from his CD Bronx in Blue (Dimensional Music Recordings) on the eve of its official release during a solo show at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan.

Dressed entirely in black (right down to his socks), the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was personable from the moment he hit the stage. He also wasted no time throwing out one-liners, generating laughs when he reacted to the enthusiastic crowd by saying with a smile, “If I didn’t know me, I’d be impressed.”

Impressive — and perhaps a bit surprising to some in the audience — were Dion’s guitar skills. The singer of such early rock hits as “The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue” grew up listening to the blues, and the classic material he covers on Bronx in Blue requires more than merely shuffling through a basic I-IV-V pattern to be effective. Just like on the album, Dion peppered such tunes as “You’re the One,” “I Let My Baby Do That” and “Built for Comfort” with slick fills, all the while maintaining a steady rhythm and singing with grace and precision.

Dion also worked in some of his older material, both famous and obscure. His rendition of the 1968 hit “Abraham, Martin and John” was well received, and “Truth Will Set You Free,” a song from 1980’s Inside Job that he set up with a funny story from his youth, was among the best of the night.

Among the celebrities soaking up the sounds at Joe’s Pub were Dictators singer Handsome Dick Manitoba (who warmly greeted friends outside like an eager-to-please politician) and 1960s star Tommy James (who rudely cut the line with his entourage once the club began letting patrons inside).

— By Chris M. Junior