Although he may frustrate the portion of his fans interested in the authenticity of reggae, Youth reaches far beyond Matisyahu's base into varied musical styles and influences. Matisyahu will once again draw attention for the novelty of a Hasidic Jewish man performing reggae, but those who stick around will find music that is charming, engaging, and, ultimately, gently subversive.
An Expansive Bid for Mainstream Awareness
Matisyahu's music speaks most consistently of a spiritual revolution driven by obedience to moral principles, fidelity to one's partners, and peaceful conflict resolution. For this type of music to have its intended impact, it must be brought to the consciousness of an expanded audience. Logically, Youth heads beyond Matisyahu's reggae base into a variety of styles more friendly to mass audiences. Revered avant-garde producer Bill Laswell provides a depth and resonance to the music while supervising sounds as varied as the metal guitars of the title song and the plaintive, folkie approach of "What I'm Fighting For."
The Power of Matisyahu's Spirituality
Despite the fact that he dabbles in a wide range of musical styles, Matisyahu's lyrics remain remarkably consistent in their promise of a spiritual paradise, based in his Jewish faith, if individuals seek to steadfastly follow a morally pure path. This focused approach could easily become oppressive, or even boring, but Matisyahu's message is so refreshingly different among today's pop musicians he doesn't have time to become boring in the space of one album. Expanding his sense of following "God's holy plan" with concepts such as remembering Jerusalem and the quest to rebuild the temple or fidelity to "one woman for me...you're my queen" prevent the album from sounding like one-note dogma and instead he is quietly didactic, instructing those who listen about his idea of a faithful life.
One of Matisyahu's greatest musical strengths beginning with his first album Shake Off the Dust...Arise is the ability to write powerful, enduring songs. "King Without a Crown," his hit song from the breakthrough album Live at Stubb's, is included here in a studio version that remains arresting and memorable in its rapid-fire lyrical devotion. Among the new gems are the beautiful "Time of Your Song," the plaintive "What I'm Fighting For," and the ode to partner fidelity "Unique Is My Dove."
Impossible to Ignore
Clearly, one of Matisyhu's goals is to bring his religious beliefs and approach to spirituality into the popular music mainstream. Unlike the approach of many contemporary Christian recording acts, he does not merely wrap himself in an accepted, common pop genre as the vehicle for his spiritual message. Instead, he draws from a gloriously eclectic musical palette to relate to as broad an audience as possible. In a musical world increasingly subdivided into sub-genres as concerned with notions of authenticity as they are with high quality sounds and unique vision, Matisyahu is gently subversive and impossible to ignore.