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Friday, March 12, 2010

Easy Star All-Stars Put Their own Spin on Favorite Records

 — When Easy Star All-Stars released “Dub Side of the Moon” — a reggae take on a favorite record of producers Len Oppenheimer, Michael Goldwasser and Eric Smith — Easy Star All-Stars only sort of existed.
The production team had handpicked studio musicians, recorded the album and released it. Then “Dub Side of the Moon” took off, said Ras I Ray, longtime Easy Star touring bassist.
“It was a labor of love, and once it was released, all of the sudden it became an underground hit, an underground success,” I Ray said. “And then the phone started ringing, and people were saying, ‘Hey, we want to see this band.’ But there was no band.”

After putting together a core of touring musicians, the producers at Easy Star Records took on Radiohead’s “OK Computer” next, reinventing one of modern music’s most devastating albums as a reggae project. When that went well, Easy Star kept building — in 2009, the collective released “Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band,” a play on the popular “Sgt. Pepper’s” Beatles album.
In a free concert at 3 p.m. Saturday in Gondola Square at the base of Steamboat Ski Area, the rotating cast of touring musicians who make up Easy Star’s public face will play selections off all three albums.
Easy Star All-Stars is the first act of the five-part 11th annual Bud Light Rocks the Boat free concert series. Also scheduled for the weekly shows are Lyrics Born, The Pimps of Joytime, The Dirty Heads and Donavon Frankenreiter.
It’s hard for I Ray to predict what Saturday’s show will be like. The studio versions of Easy Star’s renditions of classic songs are exacting, but the live show seems to change every time, he said.
“Even though we may be doing the same set list, it never turns out the same,” I Ray said. The songs “are classics in and of themselves,” and when reggae vibes are thrown into the mix, “it takes on a life force,” he said.
Each Easy Star project has its own character, from the original music on the eight-song EP “Until That Day” to the songs on the band’s three tribute albums. “Radiodread” — the album I Ray describes as the most difficult to put together — leads the pack in crowd requests, he said.
“‘OK Computer,’ it’s such a dark album. … Everybody knows that ‘OK Computer,’ from start to finish it’s this depressing mood, and that was the toughest thing to translate to reggae. … It’s still surreal, because here we are singing these lyrics that are very stark, but it might have an upbeat ska beat behind it, and there’s this tug of war going on,” I Ray said.
“It was really a struggle to try to stay true to the original but also bring the reggae to it so it does take on a new life,” he said. An onstage shout-out from Radiohead leadman Thom Yorke settled any doubts the band might have had, he said.
Easy Star All-Stars comes to Steamboat Springs with eight musicians and a sound engineer to handle the dubs, I Ray said. The band plans to work on a full-length CD of original songs this year, he said.


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