- Mon, 2011-06-20 15:18
East Star All Stars first made themselves known to the world in 2003 with their debut album Dub Side Of The Moon. A reggae re-imagining of Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side Of The Moon, it has remained on the Billboard Reggae Charts ever since. Followed in 2006 by Radiodread and in 2009 by Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band, on which the band gave the same treatment to Radiohead’s OK Computer and The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band respectively, Easy Star All Stars have firmly cemented their reputation as a modern reggae institution. Despite being so well-respected, it is only now that they have got around to releasing an album of original material, in the form of their fourth record First Light.
The sounds that we’re presented with on First Light are broadly familiar to us from the band’s previous releases. It was their combination of the essential reggae blueprint with elements of dub production and a strong, bright horn section that made their previous work such a success, and that combination is in evidence once more. Tracks like Don’t Stop The Music, Break Of Dawn and Unbelievable are classic cuts of sunny, easy-grooving reggae that get the head nodding immediately, and Something Went Wrong even sounds a little like Bob Marley’s classic, No Woman No Cry, largely due to the combined tones of the lead guitar and the organ. One Likkle Draw is an especially strong song, Junior Jazz and Daddy Lion Chandell laying down charismatic, laid-back vocals over a tune with bubbling bass, skanking horns and the occasional murmur of a Hammond organ.
Lyrically, topics covered are very much in keeping with the traditions of the genre. There are odes to weed, to reggae itself and to Zion, as well as songs about love and the day-to-day life. Vocals are largely handled by the band themselves, but as with past projects there are some guests along the way as well, the vast majority of whom easily justify their presence.
The band don’t remain exclusively within their comfort zone. First Light (Ramblin Fever) sees its horns and guitar edge towards funk territory, and the smooth female vocals and soft chimes have a touch of r&b in their genetics. In The Light, on the other hand, is a full-blown soul/r&b tune. A reworking of earlier track Break Of Dawn, it is completely transformed, virtually all traces of reggae removed and replaced by trilling guitars, a skeletal groove and seriously silky vocals. It shows off the band's skills, but whether it fits in here is debatable. Universal Law goes for a more minimal approach to the reggae blueprint, bounding along over a bass part that only uses two notes throughout, and Paid My Dues uses a fuzzy bass line and vigorous vocals to create a more hyped atmosphere than appears elsewhere.
Having made their name covering three of the greatest albums of the twentieth century, Easy Star All Stars have set themselves a very hard task when it comes to composing original material. As a result, First Light is unlikely to be as popular as their previous albums, but there is nonetheless plenty to recommend it. A steadfastly traditional rather than innovative reggae record, it could perhaps afford to lose one or two of its fourteen songs, but for the most part it is a highly enjoyable and extremely well executed album.