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Music Review: The Easy Star All-Stars – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

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Let’s face it: The Beatles have been covered by virtually every type of musician.  From doo-wop to bluegrass, heavy metal to salsa, various artists have attempted reinterpreting the classic catalog, often with mixed results.  The latest entry in the unusual Beatles covers category is Easy Star All-Stars, a reggae band who ambitiously rerecords Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.   Their version, Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band, represents a mashup between reggae, or dub, and the Beatles’ psychedelic classic. 

Easy Star All-Stars

Easy Star All-Stars have carved out a niche in reinventing rock classics as reggae experiments, most notably with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (rechristened Dub Side of the Moon) and Radiohead’s OK Computer (transformed into Radiodread).  Their latest effort is a mixed bag, with the sunnier, upbeat songs lending themselves best to a reggae makeover.

“With A Little Help from My Friends” fares well with this dub reinterpretation, with lead singer Luciano conveying a happy vibe through his voice.  One can imagine Bob Marley recording this in his lifetime, as it fits perfectly with the “One Love” theme of some of his songs.  Similarly, the cautiously optimistic “Getting Better” works with a slightly altered rhythm and subtle harmonies.  

Other standouts include “Lovely Rita,” again benefiting from the changed tempo and Rasta vibe.  They add some spoken lines, putting a whimsical spin on the song.  “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise),” while lacking the hard-driving rock guitar of the original, still features nice harmonies and compliments the party vibe of this cover album.  Surprisingly, “A Day in the Life” works as a reggae arrangement, with a gentle acoustic guitar lending a Marley-esque “Redemption Song” slant to the song.  They even play with the lyrics, particularly in the middle eight: “Woke up, fell out of bed / Jacked my fingers through my dreads,” they sing.  While this may seem flippant, the subtle lyric changes enable the song to undergo a full reggae transformation. 

One of the most interesting reinterpretations on the album, “Within You Without You” combines reggae with an Indian sitar.  The genres amazingly work together, with lead singer Metisyahu adeptly straddling both worlds.  Easy Star All-Stars should be commended for tackling such a difficult track

Easy Star All-Stars stumble a bit with the more psychedelic songs, particularly “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” with the reggae makeover sounding forced.   In addition, their cover of “She’s Leaving Home” robs the lyrics of their poignant, somber quality.  Think of recording “Yesterday” as a cheerful little tune; the song’s mood calls for a quieter, more introspective arrangement.  “When I’m Sixty-Four” works best with the old-fashioned aspects of the original, particularly fitting in with the lyrics.  .  Finally. the reggae beat also detracts from “Good Morning, Good Morning’s” straight-ahead rock. 

Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band may shock Beatles purists who believe their songs should not be drastically altered.  Listening to this album requires an open mind and willingness to accept dramatically different reinterpretations of a classic album.  While not all of the tracks work equally well, the album represents an ambitious effort.  Easy Star All-Stars clearly respect the original album and try to replicate it faithfully (yes, there’s even a backward track at the very end of “A Day in the Life”), and they deserve credit for bringing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to wider and more modern audiences. 

For more information on Easy Star All-Stars, visit their official site and MySpace page.

Easy Stars Lonely Hearts Dub Band

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About Kit O'Toole

  • Karen Stoessel

    Hey Kit: I’ll have to go and take a listen to this group. I normally hate when people mess with perfection, but I’ll give it a try! Thanks for alerting me to yet another Beatle moment!

  • Definitely give it a try, Karen–it’s an interesting concept!

  • Chris Case

    Sgt. Pepper’s has been one of my favorite albums since I first heard it in high school.

    Although I still listen to the original, I am really digging the Easys’ take on it. I certainly haven’t put on the headphones and listened – really listened closely, with eyes closed – to any of these songs in the last 20 years, and that’s exactly what I have been doing since I found this release.

    Of course my assessment of which tracks are stronger is different than Kit’s.

    The first three tracks are, in my opinion, revelatory. From the rework of the brass on the opening track, to the gorgeous vocals by Luciano on “With A Little Help..”, to the lush harmonies on “Lucy In The Sky”, the album seems to do a one-two-three punch right off the bat that just leaves me shaking my head and saying, “Wow.”

    Luciano’s “With A Little Help…” probably betters Ringo’s original vocals, and really highlights the strength of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership. And I again just have to shake my head in wonder. How can anything “highlight” the strength of Lennon-McCartney as songwriters at this point? Somehow, that’s what this album is doing for me.

    Later, the album does seem to lose some focus and momentum. But actually that’s sort of what happened on the original album too. Supposedly by the time you got to “Within You, Without You,” focus and momentum were, well, maybe not so important. Ahem.

    Matisyahu’s rendition of George’s contribution is actually one of my least favorite tracks. The instrumentation is wonderfully cosmic, but I’ve never gotten past the annoyingly hypocritical lyrics. Then again, that’s my reaction to the original. It’s hard to say whether the Easys are failing to do justice to the original material, whether the original material’s weaknesses are showing themselves, or (most likely), my ear has not yet fully learned to appreciate what it’s hearing.

    If it all sounded the same on the first listen, it certainly wouldn’t be comparable to the original.