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THE DRIFTER'S RETURN

A year in the musical life of Bob Dylan is packed with more tumult than most artists manage to instigate over the course of a career.

Change is the order of the day, it seems, and when Dylan and his band played the Erie County Fair only three years ago, one would be forgiven for having had no clue concerning the personnel shifts to come. Soon after that gig, guitarist Charlie Sexton was out of the band, new guy Freddie Koella was well-ensconced and on Dylan went with barely a hiccup.

But before fans could grow too content with Koella's place in the band, off he went to lord knows where, newbie Stu Kimball filling the six-stringer's shoes to Dylan's left. October's St. Bonaventure and Rochester shows introduced Kimball to area fans. But then came the shocker: Immediately upon announcing his spring tour with Merle Haggard and Amos Lee, Dylan unveiled what is, with the exception of the rhythm section, a whole new band. Larry Campbell, the finest guitarist Dylan has ever worked with, left to pursue a solo career. It's a testament to Campbell's abilities that Dylan chose to replace him by adding three new players to his ensemble in the form of multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron, rhythm guitarist Denny Freeman and violinist Elena Fremerman.

Early tour reports and recordings suggest that this is, once again, a startlingly fluent and fluid Dylan band that bears surface resemblance to the 1975 Rolling Thunder outfit, but is in fact a sort of rock-country-dixieland-jump-blues group, with Dylan's jagged piano and increasingly torrid vocalisms leading the way. Not surprisingly, with the new blood has come a new bag of tunes for Dylan to draw from.

Bob Dylan and his Band, with Merle Haggard and Amos Lee, play Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St., at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The show is sold out.