Matisyahu

Light

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AllMusic Review by

As 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.

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