So a Hasidic Jew walks into a BBQ joint in Austin, Texas…No, this isn’t a joke and it isn’t the first time. Matisyahu, formerly known as Matthew Miller tried to catch lightning in a bottle a second time when he returned to Stubbs for this live album.
Six years ago, he found a way to talk Trey Anastasio into letting him come on stage during Phish’s headlining Bonnaroo set. He followed up with the first live Stubb’s release and created a huge ground swell behind him as fans all over gravitated to this tall beanpole with a yarmulke who combined rap, reggae, Jewish teachings and values.
Over the past six years, the man from Brooklyn Heights has lost a few followers due to a change in musical style, but has gained an even larger following overall. He still flexes his reggae muscles, but has added a decidedly more hip-hop feel with a large dose of electronic, or trip-hop if you will.
A big part of that change had to do with replacing Roots Tonic, the original backing band, with the Dub Trio. The trio consists of Dave “DP” Holmes (guitar & keyboards), Stu Brooks (bass & keyboards) and Joe Tomino (drums & melodica). Between the three, they have played for such acts as 50 Cent, Tupac Shakur, Slick Rick, The Fugees, Macy Gray and Mos Def.
This band brings a new intensity that is a perfect fit for the newer style Matisyahu is using. Having seen these guys live, it is worth it just to hear what they come up with. The rapper/singer and band work extremely well together and all get the opportunity to shine throughout the album.
The album starts off a little slow. In the track entitled “Kodesh,” Matisyahu has his two boys reciting the lyrics to a song followed by Shema, a Jewish prayer. He continues with prayer in reverb and flows into “Got No Water” (from Shake Off the Dust). One of the better songs off his first album, he does very well here and gets the fans up out of their seats (as if anybody might be sitting).
After a shout out to Austin, Texas, this album takes off with probably the best song on the release; “Time of Your Song” (Youth) is one of those anthem-like songs that everybody remembers weeks after they saw a show. The band starts in a rock/reggae spin, but brings it down when Matis wants to take it low. It’s obvious they have been playing together for a while as they feed off of each other well.
Another trio of songs off of Youth follows in “Mist Rising,” “Darkness Into Light” and “Youth.” The first has more of a rap/hip-hop feel than the original. “Darkness Into Light” starts with a little slow falsetto that gets interrupted by rapid-fire stylings of “Chop’Em Down” (Shake Off The Dust). This is another strong track with the combination of lyrics. “Youth” also brings “Heights” (Stubbs I) and “Aish Tamid” (Shake Off the Dust) to the table in a 12 minute play with guitar solo, soft almost jazz-like vocals wrapped up in a hip hop shell.
“I Will be Light” (Light) is a sweet, soft interlude that may be misplaced in the middle of this album. Yehuda Solomon guests on “Two Child One Drop” (Shattered) as in the original. The musical arrangement on this starts off a bit creepy, with Matis sounding almost as if he is in despair. The second half of this track sounds like someone sampled a video game from the 80’s. Solomon’s singing plays well with Matis’ on this track.
“Open the Gates” is a previously unreleased song that captures the original style Matisyahu made his name with. He pays homage to Bob Marley as he provides a little Rastaman Chant” at the end.
He finishes off with the song that he will forever be remembered for, “One Day (Light)”. It starts off almost like a stripped down version of the song, but builds to an emotional crescendo that gave me chills. I could only imagine what it felt like live. The encore was “Motivate” (Light) and had a strong focus on this electronica sound. The song picks up, but in terms of a set list, I would have gone with this one to finish the set and let “One Day” be the closer. also, “King Without a Crown”, was obviously missing and could have been a nice combination encore.
In all, this is a very strong album, and for those that found Matisyahu through the album Light, they will be very pleased. It is not quite as good as the original Stubbs, but those looking for that, might have been expecting too much.
Written by Victor Alfieri