Review : Matisyahu - Light
AllmusicAs an American Hasidic Jewish reggae superstar, Matisyahu is an obvious outsider. After a debut album that felt live plus a follow-up album that was recorded live, the singer's ambition to do more with the studio presentation of his music left any sensible packaging up to the producer. The mismatch with fellow mystic Bill Laswell caused 2006's Youth to wander and sprawl, but industry vet David Kahne handles much of Light, and the difference is huge. Kahne packaged reggae-pop acts like Sublime and Fishbone -- whose members show up here -- before, but here he's primarily focused on Matisyahu's wide view, love of ancient history, and spiritual heart. The results are comparable to So and all the Peter Gabriel albums after, with high-tech and polish helping to drive home the artist's reverence and sense of wonder. Sounding like breakthrough hit "Chop 'Em Down"'s little brother, "Smash Lies" is an effective opener plus a dancehall-driven crowd-pleaser that'll give way to an album less reggae than any previous. Besides a little "singjay" in his vocal style, the grand, key track "One Day" has little to do with Jamaican music, and the equally moving "For You" is more likely influenced by Tears for Fears than Bob Marley. Joel Madden makes crunching punk-pop guitar the centerpiece of "Darkness into Light," and ethereal closer "Silence" could be passed off as from the Dave Matthews songbook if the lines written in Hebrew didn't give Matisyahu away. Whether using his voice as a whisper or as a giant call across nations, the depth of feeling comes through brilliantly, and if the musical soundscape isn't familiar, the empowering and sincere lyrics most definitely are. Add Kahne's instantly accessible production and Light is not only a welcome surprise, but an album that matches his debut....full text
PastemagazineHaving struggled to find middle ground between refining his novelty for a wider audience and retaining his reggae and hip-hop flourishes on 2006’s Youth, Matisyahu’s third album finds him caught between returning to his core and pushing further into the mainstream. The surprise is that the world’s leading (and only) Orthodox Jewish dancehall star actually succeeds by doing the latter, enlisting producer David Kahne (Sublime, Paul McCartney) and an eclectic cast of reggae all-stars (Sly & Robbie, Stephen McGregor), creating an album loaded with oversized guitars, electronic beats and anthemic choruses. Reggae and spiritual self-improvement remain Matisyahu’s foundation, but they’re increasingly buried in the mix, allowing him to focus on his developing ear as a pop songwriter (the soulful “I Will Be Light” and the pitch-shifted hookery of “Struggla”). Add in a few banjos, clarinets and a children’s choir, and you’ve got an eclectic album that’s unrepentantly over the top.
Lyin' from Zion
by Brian Howe
The fundamental problem isn’t that Matisyahu is an Orthodox Jew making reggae music. Yes, it sounds like the premise for an Andy Samberg parody: Jews like Zion, Rastafarians like Zion, therefore—Ras Trent, now with forelocks! The biggest hurdle for white, Western reggae singers to overcome is phoniness: How to make reggae without faking patois (which sounds silly and condescending), and how to embrace its themes without reducing a racially and politically charged genre to mere schtick? Matisyahu spectacularly fails to solve these predicaments, but the biggest problem with his reggae is simpler: He’s unequivocally terrible at it. Not only do we get fake patois, but also raging electric guitars and cluttered hip-hop production. We can perhaps thank the existence of marijuana, dorm rooms and the safe allure of gentrified exoticism for the fact that he’s parlayed this dross into a fertile recording career. Seriously: Who the bloodclaat is buying all of these Jah-damned Matisyahu records? It has to be the same people keeping Sublime’s back catalog inexplicably in print....full text
BillboardWhile it may be difficult to see a Hasidic Jewish reggae artist as little more than a novelty act, Matisyahu proved that he was anything but with "King Without a Crown" (which peaked at No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 2006) from his second album, "Youth." Matisyahu's third studio album, "Light," finds him revisiting the teachings of his Jewish faith, but also pushing musical boundaries behind traditional reggae. The new set dips into everything from effects-riddled hip-hop ("Smash Lies") to guitar-driven rockers ("Darkness Into Light") and stripped-down acoustic tunes ("Silence"). The first single, "One Day," is Matisyahu's most accessible song to date, offering a soaring and anthemic chorus. He may still sport the same look, but stylistically his new music proves that he's not a one-trick pony....full text
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