Doghouse Records is an unusual suspect in attempting to recreate Bob Dylan’s legacy, but it seems that an ignorance of Dylan’s music ruins most songs on Paupers, Peasants, Princes & Kings. The album’s title, a line drawn from Dylan’s “Song to Woody,” would seem to suggest that these bands now covering Dylan are passionate followers of his music, following the tradition of Dylan writing an ode to his icon, Woody Guthrie.
Innovation and creativity, qualities that need not be dismissed from a cover song, are apparent on many songs. P.O.S., for example, twists “All Along the Watchtower” into a hip-hop track. Gatsby’s American Dream adds shouting and a dance beat (and the F-word) to “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” Rachel Cantu takes “I Threw It All Away” and throws away any trace of Nashville influence. The Casual Lean sings the last verse of “Sara” as if no one in the band had ever heard “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” which is referenced in that verse. Although some of the album’s nuances demonstrate creativity, they don’t capture the essence of Dylan’s legacy. One track that does parallel the original is Say Anything’s version of “Man in Me.” The band’s rowdiness seems excusable when recalling Dylan’s own repetition of “la-la-la-la, what a wonderful feeling!”
Covering Dylan is certainly not an original idea — thousands of covers have already been recorded — but the songs on this album are not the usual titles. In fact, tracks such as Apollo Sunshine‘s “Sign on the Window” (from 1970’s New Morning) and David Moore’s “Abandoned Love” (from 1985’s Biograph) are probably most listener’s introductions to them. Unfortunately, neither artist made any recognizable attempt to nuance the songs, approaching them instead in the most mundane way possible.
Paupers, Peasants, Princes & Kings is another contribution to Bob Dylan’s iconic status among multiple generations and audiences, but it is hardly worth the attention of Dylan’s fans. A much better collection of Dylan covers was the soundtrack to Masked and Anonymous, his most recent film-directing experiment. The Martin Scorsese documentary, No Direction Home, and the publication of Dylan’s autobiography, Chronicles, have attracted another group of recent listeners, and that’s probably the audience Doghouse wishes to impress with this compilation. Dylan’s next full-length, Modern Times, is due to be released August 29 on Columbia, and that’s bound to be more exciting than anything on this tribute album.