This is the third classic album playfully covered by the all-star New York-based roots reggae crew the Easy Star All-Stars, after Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread. Basically, what they discovered is you can take pretty much anything and make reggae out of it and it’ll sound good. Consider: Shinehead took the odious Seals & Crofts hit Summer Breeze, changed the lyrics, retitled it Collie Weed and…a classic! Thankfully, this album demonstrates far more craftsmanship and subtlety. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s actually better than the original. The band is vastly tighter and the production is far more focused yet brimming with little touches that are often laugh-out-loud funny, much in the same vein as Brian Jonestown Massacre or XTC’s lovingly spot-on parodies of 60s psychedelia, issued under the Dukes of Stratosphear pseudonym a little over 20 years ago.
At the end of the opening theme, in lieu of McCartney’s satirical voiceover, a toaster delivers a brief Rasta benediction. From there, the producers have completely mixed up the tracks, but it’s still a fun ride. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has bright, melismatic Frankie Paul loverman vocals with ringing guitar that pays homage to the original. Getting Better features the Mighty Diamonds on vocals, sounding as good as ever, slowing it down from the original’s farcical stomp. The only drawback is that the original’s silliness was its selling point: rearranged this way, it’s a nice poppy reggae song, nothing more.
Fixing a Hole features none other than Max Romeo on vocals, a hilariously apt choice considering his notoriously disingenuous claim that his big hit Wet Dream was actually about a leaky roof! This one gets deliciously spacy echoes of vintage Scratch Perry. She’s Leaving Home gets a soulful, rather sultry vocal treatment by a newcomer, Kirsty Rock over a fast rocksteady beat. Without missing a beat, the bass drops out and the reverb kicks in when you least expect it. For the Benefit of Mr. Kite has the English Beat’s Ranking Roger on lead vocals, bringing it up doublespeed from the spacy dub first verse and then back again just as fast.
Within You Without You has a sitar and Matisyahu doing his best cantorial impression, and he actually doesn’t embarrass himself, with a vivid string section playing much of the original sitar part. When I’m Sixty-Four begins with a trombone call and goes on for over five minutes, Sugar Minott on vox, a showcase for the excellent horn section featuring the nucleus of the Burning Brass, baritone sax virtuoso Jenny Hill and trumpet goddess Pam Fleming, with an understatedly woozy dub breakdown.
Lovely Rita has Bunny Rugs and U-Roy, the latter taking it back to 1972 or so with his best Dread in a Babylon-style off-the-cuff nonsense. Good Morning Good Morning is the weakest track here, Steel Pulse sounding slick and uninspired like they were on their studio albums from the 80s rather than mining the classic, dark, heavy sound they’ve recently rediscovered with a vengeance. Surprisingly, the Sgt. Pepper reprise is next, followed by A Day in the Life. Done with an insistent Ras Michael style riddim, it has Michael Rose of Black Uhuru and Menny More sharing vocals, the band holding perfectly steady as the orchestra rises to a crescendo, the final piano note oscillating dubwise for just as long as George Martin’s fist-on-the-strings. A Little Help from My Friends has Luciano on lead vocals, and it might be the best song he’s ever done, thanks to the band’s inspired performance. Right now the whole album is available for streaming at imeem. Caveat: after the first song, don’t forget to refresh the page, otherwise you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. And make sure your popup blocker is working.
Since this crew seem to have dedicated themselves to covering one iconic artist after another, we’d like to suggest a few ideas. Dread at the Apollo would be James Brown covers, preferably recorded live, uptown at the same place – hey, it would be a short train ride for most of the musicians. The Man in Red, Gold and Green would be Johnny Cash songs. And to give the lady performers a chance to flex, how about Fox Confessor Bring de Herb? That would be Neko Case, yeah mon!
We do this every week. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our 100 Best Songs of 2009 list when we finalize it at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Each link here will take you to the song.
1. Jang Sa-ik - Wild Rose
The haunting, soulful “Voice of Korea”‘s big, noir, Orbison-esque hit. This is a characteristically gripping live version. He’ll be at NY City Center on 4/18.
2. Raya Brass Band – Karsilamas
Wild delirious minor-key Balkan brass band madness by this allstar NYC crew. They’re at Mehanata on 4/16 at 9.
3. Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Arguably better than the original!?! Roots reggae, funny but also really good! From the new album.
4. Jan Bell – Carpenter’s Arms
Absolutely haunting stuff from the British expat relocated to Brooklyn.
5. Kerry Kennedy – Because You’re Gone
If memory serves right this is a Little Annie/Paul Wallfisch collaboration, done with characteristic dark panache by this excellent noir rocker. She’s at Small Beast at the Delancey upstairs on 4/16.
6. Dub Proof - Ocean Avenue
Woozy instrumental dub reggae with a nice funky groove.
7.Sari Schorr - Come Around
Artsy atmospheric ballad with bite.
8. Reigns – Everything Beyond These Walls Has Been Razed
Ambient, minimalist, atmospheric, gothy. This is the video.
9. Alana Amram & the Rough Gems – Take a Drink
Great party anthem from the NYC country/Americana chanteuse.
10. Michelle Citrin & William Levin – 20 Things to Do with Matzah
Now that Passover week is over, we’re looking forward to 50 cent matzoh in the supermarket! This isn’t new, some of you doubtlessly know it already but it is really funny.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #470:
Desperate, alienated, minor-key noir 60s-style pop amped to redline with scorching guitars by the brilliant Washington, DC psychedelic punk band. From their classic 1983 lp Cybernetic Dreams of Pi, still available from TwinTone as a download. As late as a couple of years ago, the band was still doing holiday-season reunion shows: if you get the chance to catch one, don’t miss it.