New York’s Easy Star All Stars are a studio band with a fluid membership, recording under the accomplished guidance of producer Michael Goldwasser who also provides input on guitar and synths. The band gained attention upon release of its impressive track-by-track reggae reinterpretation of Pink Floyd’s masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon in 2003. Entitled Dub Side of the Moon, this audacious release brought a wholly new perspective to the original tracks and was followed a few years later by Dubber Side of the Moon (2010) which, as the name suggests, developed the dub sound of the initial release more fully with a number of remixes and further reconstructions of the tracks under the influence of several guest musicians. The band were reviewed on these pages at the time, and largely because of the excellent production qualities these first albums set a high bar for the All Stars’ subsequent releases.
The Easy Stars returned with their excellent reinterpretation of Radiohead’s OK Computer, a high- risk attempt to capture the original’s complex time changes and alterations of key in a reggae makeover entitled Radiodread (2006). Against the odds it worked, and staggeringly so. Amongst the guest artists on the album, the late Toots Hibbert provided vocals over a ska version of Let Down, a great remake which apparently gained the admiration of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood themselves.
The band has also released its own material on the EP Until that Day (2008) and the album First Light (2011), the former including a dub from the Radiodread sessions entitled Dubbing up the Walls. Their touring line-up is strong and proves them not to be just a studio creation. See them if you can. They are touring the UK in August.
After their relatively underwhelming release of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Dub Band (2009) and their remake of Michael Jackson’s Thriller (2012), it seemed that the All Stars’ experimentation and reinterpretation might have come to a close after an impressive start. Perhaps the melodic patterns of the Beatles’ classic are just too engrained in the popular psych to be convincingly reinterpreted; and perhaps Thriller isn’t strong enough to bear the weight of the All Stars’ treatment. Yet now the band bounce back to the reimagining of classic British albums with their take on the David Bowie album, retitled as Ziggy Stardub.
With a good attempt at mirroring the original Bowie cover photos, plus a host of guest artists including Maxi Priest and Macy Gray contributing to the sounds, this is an impressive interpretation of the original album. Soul Love (featuring Mortimer) rocks along as though it were originally written for a reggae band, and much the same can be said of Starman which features Maxi Priest. Lady Stardust (featuring SunDub) captures the reflective feel of the original while a couple of tracks – Star and Suffragette City (featuring Carlton Livingston and the Expanders respectively) – veer towards ska territory. Ziggy Stardust (featuring the excellent Skints) is a fine interpretation. Also included on the album are a few dub versions of the preceding tracks, plus a happy surprise in the form of the Easy Stars’ vocalist Kirsty Rock taking us through an upbeat and optimistic All the Young Dudes, written by Bowie for the British band Mott the Hoople and released by them in 1972. It’s a great rendition here. (It was not included on Bowie’s original release of the album although Bowie’s own take on his song did emerge on subsequent, relatively obscure, releases by him).
Curiously, the emotional impact of these songs seems more evident in the Easy Stars’ treatment than in the Bowie originals. If you are new to the Easy Stars All Stars, you could do worse than start with this new album which is a true return to form. It can of course be a long time between Easy Stars’ releases. So what, if anything, comes next? Dub Over Troubled Waters? Time will tell.
Easy Star All Stars: Ziggy Stardub, release 21 April 2023