The Easy Star All-Stars
Dub and cover
Rather than just a gimmick, The Easy Star All-Stars’ reggae reworking of Radiohead is in keeping with years of tradition. Mark Edmundson is impressed
It seems that these days the cover version is more popular among artists and listeners than ever. Mark Ronson’s stone-cold funk renderings have made him friends aplenty (as well as a few enemies), and one cottage label has made the high concept leap into re-reading full seminal works as reggae originals.
‘We don’t know of any other label or band that has put out complete album adaptations as we have with OK Computer and Dark Side of the Moon,’ says Michael Goldwasser, the producer, musician and arranger at the heart of the Easy Star All-Stars’ Radiodread and Dub Side of the Moon releases.
‘But there is a very long history of cover versions in Jamaican music, dating back from before reggae, where the local musicians took music from the US and played it in a way that felt natural to them. So in that sense nothing has really changed; we were just carrying on that tradition but taking it to a different place.’
New York-based label Easy Star is the brainchild of Goldwasser and high school chums Eric Smith, Lem Oppenheimer and Remy Gerstein, who, lamenting the absence of live instrumentation in contemporary Jamaican music, were intent on reproducing the classic reggae they knew and loved using the genre’s original artists and old school techniques. It was with 2003’s comprehensive reworking of Pink Floyd’s epic masterpiece in the reggae discipline, and with guest appearances from some of Jamaica’s most esteemed artists, that the small label achieved critical and coffee table recognition.
‘It’s gratifying and pretty amazing to have sold so many copies of the album, being such a tiny, tiny label,’ says Goldwasser. ‘So it was surprising. But we put a lot of effort, time and money (those last two being titles on Dark Side . . .) into making this album. We wanted to put out not just a cover of Pink Floyd but a reinterpretation, something that had artistic merit.’
After the success of Dub Side . . . the label’s attention soon turned to a sequel and Radiohead’s OK Computer appeared at first to be a natural successor.
‘First of all it’s a great album, and if you’re going to adapt an entire album to a different style of music you have to start with great source material or else the end result is not going to be great. Radiohead is considered by some people to be a 90s analogue to Pink Floyd, in so much as being a progressive rock band that is taking a lot of chances and really expanding the boundaries of what you can do with rock music. So there was a parallel there. And to take it even further OK Computer is sometimes hailed as a 90s version of Dark Side of the Moon, in being a concept album that’s very progressive. So it just made a lot of sense to us.’
Beyond this, Goldwasser concedes that Easy Star was keen to produce another album that would challenge not only themselves but also public perceptions of what could and should be done.
Disappointingly, he remains tight-lipped on the nature of the All-Stars’ current project. Goldwasser’s approach to arrangement and production is so meticulous that he fears some upstart jumping the gun on the label. But you can rest assured that it is unlikely to be Mika’s Life in Cartoon Motion.
The Arches, Glasgow, Sun 26 Aug.