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Mystic Bowie Recasts Talking Heads Songs As Reggae Bangers

Given the chance, how would you re-interpret a trove of songs that everyone knows and loves? Why would you even try?

Back when he was singer and frontman for Tom Tom Club (with drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth), Connecticut reggae ambassador Mystic Bowie hatched a plan: Take seminal Talking Heads tracks — “Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” “Life During Wartime,” “Crosseyed and Painless” and others — and recast them as reggae and ska numbers. Years later, Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads was born.

Those nagging questions, though: How? Why?

“My goal is never to be a cover band,” Bowie tells Courant music writer Michael Hamad in the podcast above. “What I want to do is to take the poetry, remove their genre from it, literally, removing their genre musically from it.”

Bowie brought David Byrne’s poetry to Jamaica and enlisted local musicians, including legendary ska guitarist Ernest Ranglin, singers Freddie McGregor and Tarrus Riley, saxophonist Dean Fraser, drummer Kirk “Kirkledove” Bennett and guitarist Lincoln Thomas.

“I maintained the integrity of Talking Heads’ artistry while fusing mine and creating that marriage. That right there helped me to push aside the challenges. ... This is my rendition of Talking Heads poetry.”

Bowie spoke at length about Talking Dreads’ new album (to be released on July 15); Jamaican music and history; meeting Jerry Garcia on the beach as a teenager (there’s a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street” on the new album); and other topics.

Studio tracks include “Once in a Lifetime” (00:00); “Burning Down the House” (04:04); “Heaven” (10:50), featuring Cindy Wilson of the B-52s; “Love>Building on Fire” (18:05); “Crosseyed and Painless” (23:07); “Shakedown Street” (30:51); and “Life During Wartime” (32:28), featuring Freddie McGregor and Ernest Ranglin.

Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads celebrated the album release at The Warehouse in Fairfield on June 15. You can stream and purchase Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads at talkingdreads.com, and see the band live at the Space Ballroom in Hamden on July 21.

Press Play is a column exploring the underground musicians of Connecticut. If you have new music to share, send it to mhamad@courant.com.

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