Easy Star All-Stars, First Light[Easy Star, 2011]

We all know the NYC-based Easy Star All-Stars are unbeatable when it comes to providing backup for reggae vets like the Meditations, Sister Carol or Sugar Minott (may he rest in peace). And sure, their remakes of classic albums Dark Side of the Moon and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in reggae style as Dub Side of the Moon and Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band are pretty ingenious. (I never heard their Radiohead remake or the original, so nah know ‘bout dat one.) But now they’ve taken a step that’s  bold for them: a new album of original material.

Should it come as any surprise that First Light contains high quality reggae from start to finish? The ranks of the ESAS are packed with players and singers who know how to do reggae with rock edges, pop sensibilities, roots reasoning, shades of dancehall and dollops of dub, and all those facets and more combine to make this disc a landmark for the Easy Star label and their namesake house band. Minott tribute “Easy Now Star,” opener “Don’t Stop the Music,” and the whimsical “Reggae Pension” all take differing though equally valid looks at the power of reggae music, and the rest of the songs back up such contentions beautifully.

Rocksteady and soul find common ground on the title track, “Something Went Wrong” brims with humble self-examination. Label mate Cas Haley digs deep into “Unbelievable.” “One Likke Draw” spins a funny story of a cop deciding to get in on the ganja action, and rousing tunes like “All the Way” and “I Won’t Stop” show just how mighty this band can be with their own stuff.

The All-Stars also give both their male and female singers ample turns at the mic, keep their arrangements creative and fresh. They don’t seem to give a damn about trendy riddims and they bring in familiar guests that include Tony Tuff, Junior Jazz, and the Meditations. The Easy Star All-Stars can feel free to keep up those reggae redo albums, but the crew has found just as true a calling with First Light, easily one of the top reggae releases of the year.