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Thursday, March 4,2010

Easy Star All-Stars pay homage to the classics

By Margaret Grondorf

In the early 2000s, back when Napster was king and iTunes was a twinkle in Apple’s eye, an underground rendition of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was making its way around college campuses around the country. This was the first labor of love for the Easy Star All-Stars, and paved the way for what some might consider the most successful cover band in recent memory. Dub Side of the Moon proved to be one of the most influential remakes of this classic album, and most creative for its rendering in dub (i.e. classic reggae style).

The Easy Star All-Stars, slated to entertain Boulder’s reggae fans on March 10 at the Fox Theatre, are much more than just some cover band. With their expanding repertoire (including dub renditions of both Radiohead and The Beatles), the All-Stars are more a creative conglomerate of musicians paying tribute to those before them than star-struck super-fans with guitars.

“We had no idea that it would be an underground success,” Ras I Ray (bassist, vocalist and long-standing member of the All-Stars) says about the phenomenon that became Dub Side of the Moon. While I Ray was not present during the studio recording of the album, he was asked to tour with Dub Side and quickly became a cornerstone in the All-Stars’ menagerie of musicians. After a successful tour, including several overseas venues, the All-Stars came home to a new project — one that would prove to their fans and critics alike that they were no one-album wonder.

Eric Smith, one of the founding partners at Easy Star Records (the Easy Star All-Stars’ record label), is also a noted Radiohead fan. His vision of dubbing OK Computer (to be entitled Radiodread) was met at first with befuddlement, and then with awe.

“The Radiodread thing, now that was a different story. Many of the band members loved Radiohead, but some of us were a bit clueless,” says I Ray. “When I first heard [OK Computer], I was like, ‘How the hell are we going to do this?’” The inspiration and rationale behind Radiodread was one part passion and many parts musical inquiry. “After the success of Dub Side, it took my record partners Lem Oppenheimer and Eric Smith and I a long time to decide on which album to tackle next,” said Michael Goldwasser, founder of the All-Stars who, somewhat ironically, called himself the senior musical director. “We decided on OK Computer for several reasons: It is a great album with some cohesion to it; it is sometimes considered a modern analog to Dark Side of the Moon; it would be a great challenge because the music is so complex.”

While the band had no clue if the translation would be successful, when the first demo was made, it became clear that they had stumbled upon the perfect album to showcase their creative prowess.

“When he sent the first rough cuts of what he did with Radiodread, I was amazed,” I Ray tells of the first time he heard what Goldwasser had produced, “Michael Goldwasser is a genius! He is the music man behind each of the albums. He is the one that dissects them and puts them back together again.”

Keeping the original albums intact is of the highest priority for the All-Stars. They also walk a tightrope between preserving the classic work and creating an original piece of their own.

“Working in the studio [on these albums] is tedious because you have to be so meticulous about staying as true as possible to the original, but also making it an original all our own. We are careful to not destroy a classic or create sacrilege, because these are classic albums,” I Ray says about the challenges the All-Stars face with these tribute projects.

The All-Stars are also busy working on original projects as well. Their EP Until That Day was wellreceived by their fans and is a stronghold in their live shows. While the All-Stars have little time to record original material in the studio (whatever is left between touring engagements and new projects), they do hope to produce a full-length album in the very near future.

Their third tribute album, released in 2009, Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band, while not as musically complex as Radiodread, has shown their progression and consistency as a band and will be on the forefront of their tour throughout the year.

On the Bill: The Easy Star All-Stars play the Fox Theatre on Wednesday, March 10. Doors at 8:30. Tickets are $16. Afro Fiesta featuring Mermans Kenkosenski and Jason Tamba open. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.
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