Matisyahu - Light
Matthew Paul Miller, come on down. Matisyahu to you and me, of course. The esteemed American Hasidic Jewish musician is nothing if not catholic in his tastes. This new studio album, his fourth, steps away somewhat from the confines of the reggae-influenced rock of earlier albums and dips a toe in more commercial waters. For an artist whose beliefs and principles so heavily inform the actual work, it would be unfair to point a finger and cry “Sell-out!” but clearly Light has its sights on broadening the singer’s appeal beyond his current cult popularity. Those of us who thrilled to the irresistible drive of 2005’s Live at Stubbs album, where Matisyahu and his redoubtable touring band played with invention and industry might step back a little when they take note of some of the smoother grooves on offer here.
The Jamaican patois is still place for the songs where singing takes over from rapping – both are still worthy of note but, crucially, the songs in this collection still largely measure up. ‘We Will Walk’ crackles with authority. ‘Smash Lies’ is hardly the softest polemic but it kicks up the dust. Lyrical themes remain largely of the ‘rise above, do the right thing’ kind (with a general seasoning of escape, light, struggle. You know the score.) ‘So Hi So Lo’ scores highest on the Potential Crossover Hit meter. If a couple of tracks are a bit too polished for their own good, the likes of ‘Motivate’ (some sensational guitar playing by longtime band member Aaron Dugan) and the Marley-esque ‘Struggla’ keep things forceful and authentic. And if you need further convincing, this is the man, remember, who turned down an invite to Madonna’s party because she sings in public. That this was informed by his religion’s belief that no women should sing alone in public is neither here nor there. You gets your cheap laughs where you can find ‘em. Light, meanwhile, is rather fine and as intelligent as it is dynamic. Recommended.