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Paupers, Peasants, Princes & Kings - The Songs of Bob Dylan Review

by Patrick Muldowney

Doghouse Records may have carefully chosen not to call this "A Tribute to Bob Dylan", and one listen to this album will clarify their reasons, but as I always say, "A turd by any other name will still stink." This tribute album is not any different than the other 99%, in that, in theory, it sounds like a promising endeavor, only to result in disappointment. The first mistake by many bands began with song choice. There is a tendency toward the more obscure songs of Bob Dylan, in an effort to be original, but there is ample proof (look at every tribute band) to back covering hits, because in the world of popular artists they are generally the best songs. What predominates, as a result, is a collection of artists who have no business covering Dylan, making songs that only he could make valuable into terrible recordings.

My greatest attraction to this album was The Honorary Title. I enjoy their original work, and assumed they would do something great. "Simple Twist of Fate" is a nice little tune, except Jarrod Gorbel kicks into a Broadway-like wail every twenty seconds, and by the end of the first minute, the song is impossible to enjoy. I'm well aware that Bob Dylan sings this similarly, but the natural dilution of his raspy voice, makes the crescendo more palatable. The Honorary Title, nevertheless, open the tribute, and deservedly so, which does not bode well for the ensuing tracks.

One of the more shocking covers of a Bob Dylan song you'll ever hear occupies the second slot. "All Along the Watchtower", a Dylan (and Hendrix) classic, is turned into a rap song by P.O.S., which may stand for Piece Of Suck, based on this installment. The rap is decent, especially for those who like the rapper who quit Linkin Park, but the actual song is about as much a cover as Nice 'n Smooth's "Sometimes I Rhyme Slow…" is a cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car".

Looking at the brighter side of this album, Jim Ward does a nice job with "Lay Lady Lay". Chris Heinrich's steel guitar sound gives this song a nice southern drawl, and Ward is capable of delivering the song in the tone and range of Dylan himself. Limbeck puts in a similar southern rock performance with "Tonight, I'll Be Staying Here With You", making this a good cover for which to crack open a cold one. David Moore has the best song on the album with "Abandoned Love". You can hear the strain in his voice, which adds to the authenticity. Also, like many of Dylan's songs (not present on this album) the words create images that are poignant. With the music and vocals so tactfully mixed, this is the only instant where I might choose the cover over the original.

On any tribute there are always certain bands that make a concerted effort to place their "original" stamp on something they didn't write. Taking such a risk usually results in catastrophe. This is definitely true for Say Anything, who turns "The Man In Me" into something worthy of credit music for a Deuce Bigalow movie. Pop punk is not a nice fit for Bob Dylan. Gatsby's American Dream delivers another stinker with "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", a song that is more reminiscent to The Mats "Within Your Reach", although the desperation is plastic. Panama Jerk completes the trio of bad Dylan experiments, as the band, which includes the drummer formerly of Pedro the Lion, messes with time signatures to create a noise rock version of "I Don't Believe You". Really killer is the dynamic vocals, which range from monotone drivel to incoherent screams. Read Yellow escapes catastrophe, experimenting with "If Not For You" effectively. It does not sound like the folk rock legend at all, but it is a kick ass indie song.

Paupers, Peasants, Princes & Thieves is another instance of how tribute albums peak more interest than appreciation. Like the Siren's Song, we will flock to what is believed to be beautiful, only to be trapped into owning a novelty. If you like the bands on this album, and could care less about Dylan, this might be much more appealing, but knowing the original work of these bands, many of these covers don't match their capabilities. Here's a thought. Bands should start making albums that celebrate artists who write good songs, but cannot perform them well. This would not only give exposure to some unknown songwriters, but also take care of the notion that no one can do it like the original. I'm sure most artists are nauseated, rather than thankful, when they hear the results, where the little known writer would truly feel the honor of such an album. Just an idea to tide me over until the next Paupers… comes along, and I'm clamoring for the first listen like everyone else.

Overall, the album does not provide listening enjoyment, but there are a few moments that could easily be transferred onto the mp3 player before the disc becomes part of the scenery.

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