1/  Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth              (Miller,Werner)               3.59
  2/  Youth                                      (Miller,Werner)               4.19
  3/  Time of Your Song                          (Miller,Douglass,Corraliza)   4.27
  4/  Dispatch the Troops                        (Miller,Werner,Dugan,David)   4.05
  5/  Indestructible                             (Miller,Douglass,Corraliza)   4.10
  6/  What I'm Fighting For                      (Werner)                      2.11
  7/  Jerusalem                                  (Miller,Douglass,Corraliza)   4.00
  8/  WP                                         (MM,JW,Dugan,David,Eisenberg) 3.59
  9/  Shalom/Saalam                              (Miller,Youssou)              1.06
  10/ Late Night In Zion                         (Miller,Dugan)                3.14
  11/ Unique Is My Dove                          (Miller,Werner,Dugan)         3.24
  12/ Ancient Lullaby                            (Miller,David,Dugan)          4.19
  13/ King Without a Crown                       (Miller,Werner)               3.42
  14/ King Without a Crown (Ad Rock Remix)       (Miller,Werner)               4.18

          Created at Orange Music Sound Studios, West Orange, New Jersey
          Tracks 3,5 & 7 created at Majestic Music Studios, New York City
          Track 13 created at Colorado Sound Recording Studio, Denver, Colorado
          Engineering: Robert Musso
          Assistant engineer: James Dellatacoma
          Produced by Bill Laswell
          Mastered by Michael Fossenkemper at Turtle Tone Studio, NYC
Matisyahu: vocals; ROOTS TONIC - Aaron Dugan: guitar; Josh Werner: bass, keys; Jonah David: drums; Marlon "Moshe" Sobol (8): ????; Stanley Ipkis (8): ????; Yusu Youssou: (9,12): ????.

          2006 - JDub/Or Music/Epic (USA), 8 2796-97695-1 (2x12")
          2006 - JDub/Or Music/Epic (USA), 8 2796-97695-2 (CD)
          2006 - JDub/Or Music/Epic (USA), 8 2876-81428-2 (CD)
Note: Bill Laswell does not play on this album.
Note: only the third version noted contains track 14.


The whirlwind of attention surrounding twenty-six-year-old Matthew Miller -- better known as the reggae newcomer Matisyahu -- can partly be attributed to the fact that the world has never seen a Hasidic Jew rocking payos side-locks and the mike with equal devotion. Youth, his major-label debut, arrives amid numerous high-profile slots at reggae festivals and a cameo on P.O.D.'s recent track "Roots in Stereo."

Much of the time, Matisyahu sounds like the former Phish-following high school dropout from White Plains, New York, that he is. His voice is nimble but reedy, his choruses generally given over to starchy platitudes like "You can't sew a stitch with one hand while you're taking it apart." His band plays one-drop roots reggae like a group of Jam Cruise vets, turning up the heat for the sizzling dancehall of "Jerusalem," where Matis pledges, "If I forget you/Then my right hand forgets what it's supposed to do," before quoting Matthew Wilder's 1983 cornball hit "Break My Stride."

"Shalom/Salaam" is a beautiful nylon-string guitar and beatbox interlude, and "What I'm Fighting For" is an acoustic number that wouldn't earn a subway busker two bits. The immensely likable and uplifting "Unique Is My Dove" finds Matis pledging "one woman for me" in a surprising, soulful croon. "WP" (which stands for White Plains) is the most lyrically attractive track: Matis speaks directly about how his teenage frustrations found an outlet rhyming on the playground. "King Without a Crown," the track that spun on alt-rock radio and got last year's Live at Stubb's album selling, is rerecorded here as the album closer. It's still by far Matisyahu's best, catchiest song, his high, wordless wail commanding the spirit's attention, before he cries, "I want Moshiach now!" -- the album's most forthright expression of his Lubavitch faith. While Youth is certainly worth a listen, the most exceptional thing about Matisyahu remains the most circumstantial.

3 stars out of 5

Peter Relic (courtesy of the Rolling Stone website)


Everyone wishes they were better than they are. We all have good intentions and big ideas for improving ourselves and the world we inhabit, telling ourselves we’ll do more volunteer work, that we’ll be more vocal in our support of causes and more vigilant in our opposition to injustice. We feel a vague but unmistakable desire to spend more time fostering our spirits and purging our lives of wickedness and waste.

Most of the time, these noble aims fall by the wayside, not solely because we lack the diligence or discipline to see them through, but also because we as humans are so adept at finding temporary placebos for our spiritual and humanistic cravings. A $25 donation to OxFam (guilty). Two measly hours spent boxing up food for Katrina victims (guilty again). Renting and watching the suicide bomber drama Paradise Now with appropriate sympathy and outrage (just did that one, actually). Buying a Matisyahu CD.

Detractors of the Hasidic-reggae rhyme-spitter often label him mushy NPR fare, a perfectly safe pan-cultural option for aging liberals who enjoy the smell of their own emissions, so to speak. But I think there’s more to it than that. For one thing, you don’t move the units Matis has moved by appealing solely to Dennis Kucinich’s base.

My guess is a whole bunch of Matisyahu’s fans are idealistic young people who feel a gnawing urge for self-betterment and get an easy salve from his songs of religious asceticism. Unlike many other intensely conscientious pop stars (even including Matis’ dormroom antecedent Bob Marley), the nominal Matthew Miller’s music really can’t be mistaken for simple party fare. No matter how dense the pot smoke, the purity of M’s vision pierces through. And yet (and this is important) the tunes themselves go down smoother than those new Heinie Lights, meaning we can achieve a suitable sense of self-actualization without ever having to actually dampen our buzz.

In fact, the only one doing any real work here is Matis himself. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t talk to ladies—in the ultimate show of spiritual austerity, he doesn’t even seem to be enjoying the spoils of his fame. Meanwhile, we can continue blissfully indulging in all of our vices, so long as we fool ourselves into thinking we’re trying to mend our ways. Listening to Matisyahu is a small but certainly not inconsequential step in that direction.

So a man exhibits a genuinely admirable dedication to spiritual principles and makes tremendous sacrifices the likes of which would cause 99% of us to run for the hills. Somehow he makes incredibly pop-palatable music in the process (unless you really believe everybody’s just buying his record for the sheer novelty of it, which I think is pretty much bullshit). So what about the actual music behind the man with the admittedly Ripley’s-worthy gimmick?

Well, to be fair, much of it does seem tailored to suit the NORML crowd—reggae dabblers, DMB acolytes, and other proponents of crunchy grooves. Righteous-minded rabble-rousers like “Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth,” “Youth” (which starts off like thrice-Xeroxed early-90s RHCP) and “Dispatch the Troops” (his Sublime-est moment) probably earn the most misplaced cries of “fuck yeah!” in concert, but they’re clearly Matisyahu’s weak spots, awkwardly pedantic where they should be stirringly anthemic. “What I’m Fighting For” is another misstep, an acoustic soul cry that bids to be Miller’s own take on Marley’s deathless “Redemption Song,” but can’t overcome the heir aspirant’s inability to actually sing.

Matisyahu’s artistic limitations have all been well-documented, but what’s gotten lost in the rush to label and negate him as just another brief Billboard aberration is the fact that Youth boasts quite a number of truly lovely lightweight tunes, some even better than the cheerfully moralizing “King Without a Crown,” the smash single that first brought Matis’ gentle hectoring to pop ears.

Though I imagine he’d like us all to be pumping our fists along with his strident sing-alongs, Matis fares much better with brightly-fashioned pop than polemics. Credit likely goes to legendary dub producer Bill Laswell for the busy, shimmering arrangements that make Youth surprisingly salvageable. Brisk, twinkly stuff like “Indestructible” and “Time of Your Song” might feel overly ephemeral at first, but much like Madonna’s recent devotionals, it’s with this happy quasi-spiritual fluff that Matisyahu really shines. Miller even manages to convey real beauty and longing in these quieter moments, pledging solidarity in “Jerusalem” and actually admitting some vulnerability and doubt in the utterly spellbinding “Late Night in Zion.”

Once a Phish-jocking student himself, Matisyahu makes an excellent stand-in for the best-laid plans of his younger demographic. In a culture of habitual self-improvement he represents an ideal (or if you prefer, extreme)—one that few of us will ever even attempt to attain, sure, but one that makes us all feel a little bit better about ourselves for endorsing. Perhaps you can’t write off purchasing Youth on your taxes, but it’s still plenty more enjoyable than a PBS tote bag.


Josh Love (courtesy of the Stylus Magazine website)


Matisyahu's Live at Stubb's could have easily been last year's No. 1 novelty disc. But this converted Orthodox Hasid actually did sound as if he'd grown up on the streets of Jamaica, not in the New York suburbs, and the album's dub-rooted grooves, while sometimes monotonous, did approximate the lean, hungry feel of vintage reggae. On Youth, this one-man mash-up understandably wants to prove he's more than just a one-Talmud pony, yet the strain is as noticeable as his black hat. In the studio, the stark directness of Stubb's is too often replaced with cluttered electro-reggae. It's one thing to pen ''What I'm Fighting For,'' a bargain-basement rewrite of Bob Marley's ''Redemption Song.'' It's another to slip the chorus of Matthew Wilder's cloying 1983 hit ''Break My Stride'' into the otherwise severe ''Jerusalem'' — the two songs mesh together a little too well.

Youth also tries to demonstrate the range of Matisyahu's delivery, with similarly mannered results. He's unquestionably skilled at aping a variety of styles: spewing hammy patois on ''Dispatch the Troops,'' transforming into a dancehall motormouth on ''Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth,'' and crooning like a mellow Phish-loving fellow on the gooey love song ''Unique Is My Dove'' and ''Late Night in Zion'' (his assertion, or warning, that ''We're not alone in the madness/ If we're here then so are you''). But in spanning the vocal spectrum, Matisyahu could easily pass for a will-try-anything contestant on Jewish-American Idol.

What elevates Matisyahu above gimmick status is, of course, his lyrics, which resolutely reflect his religious conversion. In fact, outsiders may feel they need to have a copy of the Torah handy in order to grasp the many Zion references. His singsongy melodies, like that of ''Time of Your Song,'' help offset his sermons. And the wailing wall of guitars on ''Youth'' mightily compensates for Matisyahu's stern admonition of those darn self-indulgent kids today. (Is he referring to the same Hacky Sackers who've become his fan base?) But that song's unrelenting humorlessness is part of Matisyahu's larger dilemma: trying to reconcile his strict beliefs with the joy and bliss that are intrinsic to reggae and jam-band rock — and which his own creations regularly lack.


David Browne (courtesy of the Entertainment Weekly website)