sun 21/04/2024

Album: Easy Star All Stars - Ziggy Stardub | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Easy Star All Stars - Ziggy Stardub

Album: Easy Star All Stars - Ziggy Stardub

Transcending novelty with the NYC reggae covers crew

'It’s fantastically done, shines a light on just how strong the songs are, and is endlessly listenable'

You’ve got to hand it to New Yorkers Easy Star All Stars: their records do what they say on the tin. This starts with a simple reggae drum rhythm fading in, couple of echo effects, a nifty fill, then in comes David Hinds of Steel Pulse singing, beautifully, “pushing through the market square / so many mothers sighing”. It’s “Five Years,” delivered straightforwardly in dub reggae style, no messing about, job done.  

This has been ESAS’s for knocking on two decades now – Dub Side of the MoonSgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band, Radiodread and Thrillah each taking a classic album, delivering it from beginning to end in a mix of different reggae styles and a parade of well established and younger vocalists, lots of echo, heavy bass, great. And it works. It works really well precisely because they’re so straightforward in their approach.

Reggae has always taken a magpie approach to both its own motifs and global pop – “versioning” tracks endlessly, from the earliest days of ska and rocksteady through to the present day: just think of classics like John Holt’s 1000 Volts of Holt. So for all the punning and clever adaptation of artwork, these really aren’t novelty records. This is just what reggae does.  

Reggae is also built on mind-boggling excellence. Consider the country had well under two million people in the 1970s when reggae’s wave first crested, yet produced an implausible number of world-class singers, players and producers, who altered the character of global music forever. ESAS have constantly used the absolute top tier of reggae singers – the likes of Max Romeo, Luciano, Toots & The Maytals, Horace Andy, and on the list goes – and their own players are impeccable. 

This album is tilted more towards younger singers, though we do still have Steel Pulse, Maxi Priest (on “Starman”) and Carlton Livingstone here (on “Star”). But there are also big US non reggae names doing decent turns: Fishbone do a creditable job of mixing rock with the original digital dancehall Sleng Teng Riddim on “Hang on to Yourself”, and Macy Gray’s huskiness suits reggae down to the ground on an absolutely devastating “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”.  

This can’t quite match up to Radiodread’s rework of OK Computer, because there’s less surprise value. Bowie’s song and classic reggae share US R&B roots, so it’s an entirely natural fit – in fact it can often feel like you’ve known these versions all your life. But nonetheless, it’s fantastically done, shines a light on just how strong the songs are, and is endlessly listenable.

@joemuggs

Hear "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" feat. Macy Gray:

Macy Gray’s huskiness suits reggae down to the ground on an absolutely devastating “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

I loved ESAS take on Dark side of the moon & Thriller, but this I feel this didn't work. Album too far? Difficult 3rd album? Dunno

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