Once the novelty of Matisyahu (nee Matthew Miller) wears off—hey, look, a Hasidic Jew who performs reggae!—you’re left with a couple of good songs and a concept that works better on paper than in execution. I’ve always been of the mind that reggae, as an art form, works much better in the live context than in the dry, antiseptic confines of a studio—hence my appreciation for Matisyahu’s breakthrough work, 2003’s Live At Stubb’s. On Youth, Matisyahu’s sophomore effort, what feels raw and kinetic on Stubb’s (hit track “King Without A Crown” is a perfect example) comes across as somehow diluted. The title track gets a modest groove going, “Dispatch The Troops” neatly references The Police, “What I’m Fighting For” is the disc’s most blatant Marley homage, and “Time Of Your OSong” works an ethereal sort of magic, but so much of Youth, produced by Bill Laswell, can’t shake the air of trying too hard. Smooth flow and occasional inventive beats notwithstanding, this is an album that feels bloated, overextended, and much too calculated. Reggae, by its very nature, is a genre that lends itself to relaxed, casual compositions; Youth has those in short supply. Matisyahu clearly has the chops to compete with the dancehall big boys, but Youth is not the album that proves it; for undeniable proof, those intrigued by “King Without A Crown” would do well to pick up Live At Stubb’s instead.
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