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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 6, 2006

My view: 'Live at Stubb's' by Matisyahu

By Jeremy Castillo
Special to The Advertiser

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5 Outstanding: Add it to your collection now. A must-have.

4 Great: Buy it or rent it definitely listen to it.

3 Good: Worth listening to despite some flaws.

2 Fair: Unless you're a fan of the group or singer, don't bother.

1 Poor: Save your money (and your ears).

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CD: "Live at Stubb's" by Matisyahu; Or Music

Release: April 19

Style: Reggae

My take: By now you've probably heard of Matisyahu. He's a Hassidic Jew with a aptitude for rapping and is accompanied by a solid group of rock/reggae performers backing up his rhymes.

"Live at Stubb's" was released as an alternative to his debut album, "Shake Off the Dust ... Arise," which got nowhere near the attention of the live album, recorded in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 19, 2005.

It's rare to see a mainstream act release a live album to coincide with a debut, especially because "Stubb's" is thought to be just that. Most of the time, live recordings are put out to maintain momen-tum during an artist's creative downtime or to fulfill an album-number clause in his or her contract without having to produce new material.

But for Matisyahu, the live album early on works in his favor. It presents him as a strong performer able to engage an audience, and feed off it as between-song interaction with the crowd shows. His voice is clear enough to understand without too much help from the post-recording production team. His band complements his style well and is very responsive, as if they've played together for decades. Matisyahu's lyrics aren't bad either.

Anyone who's heard "King Without a Crown" can guess his words are religion driven. There are plenty of references to his faith, but songs never venture into preachy or sappy territory; that's a lesson other faith-based music performers can certainly learn. The track "Chop 'Em Down" is the best song here and the most energetic; "Aish Tamid," a tale of the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple, is quite good, too. "Fire and Heights," an instrumental in which the band shows its stuff, is a fun listen.

It's rare for an artist to make his debut, and in such a big way, with a live album, but Matisyahu is a rare performer. He blends three genres seamlessly, giving rock, reggae and rap fans all something to enjoy, even if their music tastes never intersect. It's something bands have been trying to do for years but always missed the mark.

Matisyahu has proven that he doesn't need tons of studio work, teams of producers and big stage theatrics to be successful; he rides the waves of creativity and talent. In a time with so few original performers doing something different, Matisyahu sticks out and shouldn't be missed.

Jeremy Castillo is a student at Windward Community College and editor of the college's newspaper, Ka 'Ohana.