Reggae meets Pink Floyd and Beatles with the All Stars

CROPREDY, England (Reuters Life!) - Anyone who has ever listened to reggae masters Toots and the Maytals taking John Denver’s “Country Roads” to new heights knows that reggae can cover just about anything.

Singer and bass player Ras I Ray of the Easy Star All-Stars belts out some reggae/dub at Fairport's Cropredy Convention in Oxfordshire, England, August 14, 2010. REUTERS/Jeremy Gaunt

The Easy Star All-Stars, which delivered a thumping dose of Jamaican dub to a heavily Brit folk-rock audience at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in Oxfordshire at the weekend, is reaching new levels.

From the cult CD “Dub Side of the Moon,” through “Radiodread” to “Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band,” the New York-based group is jamming its way through a pantheon of rock classics.

Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” to be precise.

What is remarkable about the productions -- which follow the originals from start to finish -- is that each comes across as a true homage rather than a rip-off cover.

And while it is unsurprising that reggae would do well with the likes of Floyd’s “Money” or The Beatles’ “Lovely Rita,” it is less immediately obvious with tracks such as “Breathe” or “Within You Without You.”

Yet it works with great effect, as many bouncing, joyful fans in the Cropredy crowd attested, albeit that some of the more fiddle-focused folkies at the back seemed unmoved.

The success of giving classics the Caribbean treatment does not seem strange to Ras I Ray, the All-Stars’ bassist and sometime frontman.

“It is the simplicity of reggae music,” he told Reuters ahead of the Cropredy set. “In all music you can have reggae music.”

The All-Stars usually comprise nine people -- eight musicians and singers, and a sound mixer who Ray is adamant counts as a full band member. They are individual artists brought together by Easy Star Records, a specialist in reggae and dub production.

What success the band has achieved so far has been mainly in western Europe, particularly Britain where a tour is ending this week and a new one, incorporating Ireland, is due to start in October.

In between, the band is playing in Canada and the United States. Ray says the latter has been a hard nut to crack because the U.S. music industry is compartmentalized and, frankly, doesn’t know where to put the All-Stars.

Meanwhile, another cover is on the way, but the band either doesn’t know what it will be because Easy Star Records has not decided, or is just not telling.

“There is another cover in the future. We don’t know exactly what it will be,” Ray said.

Somebody in the room mumbled Abba. Could have been a joke, might not have been. Either way, reggae and the All-Stars would surely handle it.

Editing by Steve Addison