Live at Stubb's
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2005, Volume 12, #5
Written by John Metzger
It’s hard to imagine a better gimmick than the one being floated by Matisyahu. As a practicing Hasidic Jew, the singer/songwriter sports the long beard, hat, and black coat that are customary for those of his faith, but instead of the synagogue, one is more likely to find him frequenting the bars and nightclubs around the country in which he performs his own, unique brand of reggae-inflected rock. In terms of having a story to tell, there’s little doubt that Matisyahu, née Matthew Miller, certainly takes the cake, and over the course of the past few months, the mainstream press has been bending over backwards to place it within the public’s purview. Indeed, what started the year as a dull murmur is likely, in the coming weeks, to reach a feverishly pitched roar, especially considering that he only recently released his first effort for major-label Or Music. Titled Live at Stubb’s, the collection offers an hour-long glimpse at this bizarre phenomenon, which features Matisyahu sparsely backed by a trio of musicians. While the collective’s performance rarely rises above the level of a good but typical bar band, there also is something strangely compelling about him. Transforming the spiritual underpinnings of reggae into Old Testament piety, Matisyahu sprinkles his ruminations with a blend of beat box rhythms and hip-hop rhymes in ways that conjure images of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis channeling Bob Marley. Incorporating the jam band community’s dexterous sense of a solid groove, the ensemble uses its full dynamic range to make its point. Sure, Matisyahu’s vocals lack the soulful air necessary to make the slower passages succeed, but when he starts delivering words and syllabic sounds in rapid succession and guitarist Aaron Dugan answers him with a brash display of his own, it’s impossible not to be transfixed.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box