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Published: 2011/04/05
by Brian Robbins

Easy Star All-Stars
First Light

Easy Star Records

After setting the standard for reggae tribute albums with their knock-out takes on the music of Radiohead, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles, the Easy Star All-Stars have focused their collective skills in another direction – an album of all-original tunes. The 14 cuts on the band’s new First Light are credited to 10 different combinations of in-house writing talent – an amazingly strong bench to work with.

Don’t mistake the slackening of headspace exploration and layers-upon-layers of shifting sounds on First Light (although the album closes with a dub version of the opener, “Don’t Stop The Music”) to mean that the All-Stars have gone soft on us. Rather, they’ve traded their navigational charts of the aforementioned headspace for soulspace – the key word there being “soul.” While this remains a reggae band through-and-through, some of the music on First Light is infused with a vibe that’s almost as much Motown as it is Trenchtown.

Bet-your-ass-it’ll-be-a-sing-a-long tune: “One Likkle Draw”, where herb and sensibility win out in the end over the heavy hand of the law. This is a story rather a political statement, but it gets the message through (as all good fables do) just the same.

Sweetest dollop of skank: “Reggae Pension”, with ultra-smooth vocals by guitarist Shelton Garner, Jr. “You shall see/it’s not about the currency,” croons Garner. You won’t doubt it a bit.

Total reggae soulstresses: Joanne Williams and Kirsty Rock, who lead the way vocally on a total of five tracks between them. Listen to Rock’s take on the title track or Williams’ delivery on “Universal Law” – who else is doling it out like that these days? Nobody.

Best “What-does-that-sound-like-or-maybe-it-doesn’t” moment on the album: That would be the final minute of the title song just mentioned, where the All-Star horns weave and drift over a cool cross between the Temptations cranking out “Ball of Confusion” and the outro chant on “I Am The Walrus”. Get in the right frame of mind and let it play; I swear it’s all there.

Biggest, bouncy, buttery balls of bass: Crank the low-end of the EQ for “Something Went Wrong” and dig what Renard Shy, Sr. is laying down. (Mister Shy thumps out the bass lines for all but one tune on First Light and is a master of uncluttered groove.)

The Distinguished Fader Award: “Don’t Stop Dub Music” a classic example of what the All-Stars are awfully good at, just in case you’d forgotten.

In some ways, First Light may seem like a departure for the Easy Star All-Stars – and in other ways, it’s nothing more than the next logical step. This much talent had to be channeled somewhere; First Light is a great destination.

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