Following on from the release of “Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band” in 2009, The Easy Star All Stars issued “First Light” in 2011, which was to be their first full length release comprising of all original material. The band had already released an original EP in 2008 titled “Until That Day,” so fans had somewhat of an idea of their capabilities as original artists. The “First Light” album was also the last to feature contributions from singer and Dance Hall chanter Menny More, who went on to pursue a solo career after its release. Let us just get on with the review so we can discuss the MUSIC. Speaking of which, the first song on the album just so happens to be titled…….
Don’t Stop the Music: Menny More steps to the mic to bring forth a tune that’s essentially a celebration of reggae music, which of course unites, that’s the key word here. “It’s reggae make the people them no fight.” Actually, reggae can be rebellious and aggressive as well. Just not in this particular instance. Let’s not get too technical, just do as Menny says and turn the sound system up really loudly!! But make sure you warn everybody beforehand just as Menny has done.
Break of Dawn: Don’t let that piano in the intro fool you, The Easy Star All Stars are coming at you with another blazing hot reggae rhythm, filled with plenty of vintage sounding horns. You can definitely march to this! Lyrically, quite a spiritual song about moving forward and not letting anybody bring you down, yet still remaining humble through it all. Certainly something we could all take heed to. The woman singing this song goes by the name of Joanne Williams.
First Light (Ramblin’ Fever): Kirsty Rock on lead vocals for the title track. A bit more laid back and soulful compared to the songs we’ve heard so far. Two minutes and fifty second in, there’s a deep voiced chant of: “Keep on pushing on,” which suggests that once again they are encouraging us to move on whenever we’ve experienced some kind of pain in our lives. The ones who see the light and keep on moving are the ones who survive. Indeed.
One Likkle Draw: Here comes the pro-weed anthem from the same band whose reggae tribute to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of the Moon” begins with a dreadlocked Rasta taking bong hits. The same samples have also been used on this original composition. Michael Goldswasser, the main man behind the Easy Star All Stars is responsible for penning this tune, which features the chorus: “One likkle draw from my chalice is all that I want before you take my herbs from me, Mr Officer.” On the one hand, it’s catchy, but as a non-smoker, it just makes me want to move onto the next subject matter.
Something Went Wrong: The second contribution from Menny More. He’s in a much more reflective type of mood this time around, asking God (Rastafari) for help because, as the title says, something went wrong in his life and he doesn’t really know why that is. Still, he’s choosing to “fight it like a warrior, going to break down every barrier, ‘cause they don’t really know me.” Glad to see he’s standing up for himself.
Easy Now Star: Another Goldswasser composition, co-written with two of the guest stars featured on this track, which include the likes of Lady Ann, Tony Tuff and The Meditations, all of whom would be considered legends in the world of reggae music. Given that the main message here is: “Take it easy, star,” the tempo has been slowed all the way down and it creates quite a mellow type of vibe. One of the better songs on the album that you can just chill to.
Universal Law: Joanne Williams, who sang “Break Of Dawn” earlier returns for this next jam. An example of some of this song’s lyrics include: “You are such a liar pants are on fire.” Seems like a bit of a childish thing to say but it works, I suppose. When this album was first made available for purchase on iTunes, there was a red letter “E” beside this song’s title warning people of the offensive language. In this case, it is the Caribbean term known simply as, “fuckery”. Naughty Easy Stars. Fuckery is definitely not what this song is though!
Paid My Dues: Menny More is back on the track and this time around he’s warning us of certain roads we may choose to travel, telling us that he’s ready to “take every beating, every bruise.” You’d need to have at least a passing knowledge of Jamaican Patois in order to be able to follow his lyrics, otherwise you’d be incredibly lost, as he’s now bringing forth some otherwise wicked dance hall chants. He wrote this one all on his own again, despite shouting out a certain “Michael G” in the intro. Of course we all know it’s the same man who later released an R&B project under the name Goldswagger. Very clever.
Reggae Pension: The horns are back in full effect on this next jam. Guitarist Shelton Garner, Jr handles the vocal duties and it’s not a bad first effort at all, he’s quite soulful on this track, especially when he hits those slightly higher notes. Pretty hard to get all the way up there, but he pulls it off. The lyrics aren’t that hard to follow, it’s just about Shelton and the band going all around the world and playing reggae music. When he’s done playing music, he goes away and starts counting his reggae pension. He’s still a young guy, so he has a long way to go yet! Wouldn’t it be great to live off a reggae pension though?
In the Light: Just another version of the song “Break Of Dawn,” which appeared earlier on the album, except this one is a lot more R&B based and it features a nice, relaxing, dreamy Fender Rhodes piano riff. Again Joanne Williams is on lead vocals. Her backing vocals on this album remind me of Angela Johnson…. are you sure she is not secretly featured? She knows these guys doesn’t she?
Unbelievable: Goldswasser said that sometimes he’ll dub out instruments live in the studio and by the sounds of things, that’s exactly what he’s doing at about a minute and forty-eight seconds into this tune. The guitar is just chugging along on its own along with the horns and keys. Pretty cool. The vocalist featured here goes by the name of Cas Haley. If memory serves me correctly, this was the first time he was featured on an Easy Star All Stars album. Good stuff indeed.
All the Way: Kirsty Rock is back on the mic for this great meshing of roots rock reggae and dancehall. At one point there are backwards instruments…. and again certain musical parts are being dubbed out. Lyrically she’s begging a fellow to take her home with him and she will not take no for an answer. Damn!! On another note, my own personal copy of this CD was actually autographed by her and some of the other members of the band in late 2012. She was definitely impressed that I had brought the actual disc along with me.
I Won’t Stop: Although Menny More is once again the lead vocalist on this track, he didn’t write the lyrics to this song. Still, it’s quite a personal and profound message that he’s brought across: He won’t stop until he reaches a destination that he is entirely satisfied with, yet he still doesn’t know exactly where he’s headed. This song also features elements of Dance Hall reggae, which then gives it a slight edge. Certainly quite a way to bow out.
Don’t Stop Dub Music: Obviously this is just a dub version of the opening cut, “Don’t Stop The Music,” which features Menny’s lead vocals being dubbed in and out of the track and at one point the backing vocals are spun backwards. Sure, why not, Mr Goldswagger? The CD closes with this song, but the digital edition features three extra remixes along with a bonus song called “Demons.” I’ll leave it at that though.
Verdict: While this band is better known as a reggae tribute act, “First Light” proves that they can indeed come up with something new and original. In fact this album begs the question of, why don’t they release original material more often? Bands always do the their best in situations like this one. Easy Stars are no exception. On another note, song titles like “Something Went Wrong,” “Paid My Dues” and “I Won’t Stop” definitely leave quite a big question mark on Menny More’s departure.