CD reviews: New music by artists headed to Aspen |

CD reviews: New music by artists headed to Aspen

Samuel J. Fanburg
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesEasy Star All-Stars have released "Thrillah," a reggae take on Michael Jackson's "Thriller," and perform in September at Belly Up Aspen.

produced by Kool Kojack (Fallen Sparks)

Matisyahu has been going through some serious changes recently. The once-bearded reggae singer, also known as Matthew Paul Miller, used to sport a yarmulke, along with peyes, a hairstyle of traditional Hasidic Jews. But with “Spark Seeker” Matisyahu has taken on a new look by cutting his hair short, dying it blond and shaving his face.

Matisyahu has always had the ability to translate universal ideas like individuality, peace and tolerance into popular catchy tunes, and “Spark Seeker” continues this narrative. There are many tracks similar to the epic “Live Like a Warrior,” which instructs, “Today, today, like you wanna/ Let yesterday burn and throw it in a fire, in a fire, in fire/ live like a warrior.”

Matisyahu broke through with the hip-hop song “King Without a Crown.” With “Spark Seeker,” Matisyahu has almost conceded to a more popular sound. Gone are the hauntingly great tunes where he raps or speaks in Hebrew. Matisyahu just sings more. There are times when songs seem more appropriate for Akon or another “Auto-tune’ singer.

There is some resemblance to the past Matisyahu in the songs “Buffalo Soldier” and “King Crown of Judah.” Coincidentally, both songs feature recently incarcerated rapper Shyne, another Jewish devotee. These songs showcase what Matisyahu does best, combining Middle Eastern sounds like classical guitar, flutes, clarinets and sitars with modern hip-hop lyrics.

Matisyahu plays Sept. 9 at Belly Up Aspen.

Similar to Matisyahu by performing under a pseudonym is Meiko, a 29-year-old singer-songwriter from Roberta, Ga. (The name Meiko comes from the wish to be more connected to the Japanese part of her family.) In “The Bright Side,” Meiko artfully paints the image of a young lady obsessed with relationships.

It is strange that Meiko titles her album “The Bright Side.” One might assume the album is full of experiences that show that, while there are pitfalls in all relationships, like jealousy or envy, there are “the bright sides” – as simple as a shared walk.

Meiko seemingly does not discuss these moments, but often the downsides to a romantic relationship. The album almost portrays relationships as a chore or something to struggle with. “When the Doors Close” is about having a boyfriend that none of your friends like, while “Leave the Lights On” is about a secret relationship, inspired by a jealous girlfriend of one of her male friends. “Lie to Me” is about a conversation Meiko wish she had never had with a loved one. A slower song, “Thinking Too Much,” illustrates that love has taken over Meiko’s psyche: “I should be dreaming every night, but instead I toss and turn in my bed/ I’m restless every night.”

Meiko plays the part of a Sheryl Crow-meets-Lily Allen well. She is a great guitar player and the melodies of her songs are catchy. Most begin with a slow building of guitar from Meiko followed by a drum kit or synthesizer providing rhythm.

Meiko plays Aug. 14 at Belly Up.

produced by Michael Goldwasser (Easy Star)

What do Radiohead, the Beatles, Pink Floyd and now Michael Jackson have in common? How about they have all been covered by the Easy Star All-Stars? Originating in 2003, the Easy Star All-Stars is an ever-changing lineup of reggae musicians releasing cover albums that tinker with classic rock material.

The All-Stars take a famous album from a transitional artist and re-record it through a reggae lens. The All-Stars made “Dub Side of the Moon” of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” and turned “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” into “Lonely Hearts Dub Band.”

In their newest effort, the All-Stars have taken Michael Jackson’s classic 1982 album and have reworked the classics. “Billie Jean” has transformed from an ’80’s staple to a tropical treat of steel drums and a droning dub vibe. The All-Stars are able to keep their style fresh by only changing songs ever so slightly. Each cover song still has a strong connection to the original. “Human Nature” sounds great as reggae; with Cas Haley on vocals it can almost pass for Bob Marley.

Easy Star All-Stars play Sept. 15 at Belly Up.

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