New York Newsday savages Matisyahu:
Because he employed only a sparse trio of guitar, bass and drums, the greater part of the burden fell on Matisyahu’s voice. And sadly, he wasn’t always up for the challenge. He struggled to hit the high notes in "Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth" and failed to convincingly sell the clunky love song "Unique Is My Dove." Trickier still were the up-tempo numbers. Matisyahu has a nimble tongue and a fondness for speedy, tongue-twisting runs, but he has a tendency to hit the syllables like an understudy nailing his marks: with precision, but without any real sense of ownership. More troublesome is his insistence on employing a fake Jamaican patois, a device that only emphasizes that he is not from Kingston. Lacking the gruffness of dance-hall giant Elephant Man or the sweetness of reggae vocalist Sugar Minott, Matisyahu mostly comes off as a well-meaning mimic.
The same goes for his band who, while certainly proficient, were prone to bouts of unnecessary showiness. Their attempt to append a dub break to the end of "Exaltation" was listless and forced, and their occasional detours into meandering jams (the most unbearable of which ended in a drum solo) were ill-advised. In the end, the songs felt strangely starched, aping reggae’s cadence and loping bass lines but lacking all of its glorious dankness and mystery.
The moments when things did lock into place were genuinely exciting. In "Jerusalem," while the group worked a slow, surging groove, Matisyahu’s voice fit snugly between the whirring of bass and drums. "Close My Eyes" built to a gloriously frenzied conclusion, with the band consumed by a manic, frenzied jam and Matisyahu spinning giddily on one foot, grinning and raising his hands to the sky. If he can only figure a way to funnel that ecstatic personality into his songs, he might be onto something.
Sure. He could sing Yechi.
"Youth" might be refreshing, even inspiring, if Matisyahu’s delivery
made up for his material. But his voice is reedy and strained, and his
accent shifts from Caribbean to Hebrew to generic American with no
discernible connection to the songs.
The band wanders out of reggae syncopation into rock with a similar
lack of purpose. It feels like a preppy band that got through college
on drugs and audience indulgence before finding religion. Matisyahu’s
faith is his business, but comparisons to the spirituality of a Bob
Marley — one magazine, hopefully in jest, quizzes readers to
distinguish between the lyrics of the two — are a wee bit premature.
Rolling Stone also trashed Matisyahu. Their conclusion?
[T]he most exceptional
thing about Matisyahu remains the most circumstantial.
Just like today’s Chabad.