Matthew Miller, better known as Matisyahu, is an artist that has been building momentum for a few years. Combining reggae, alternative rock, and hip hop with traditional Jewish values, he is best known for his songs “One Day” and “King Without a Crown.” These hit songs demonstrate both his lyrical and melodic prowess, and his newest release – a live acoustic performance of “Spark Seeker” – is no exception.
The first song off the EP, entitled “Crossroads” (feat J.Ralph), begins with a melancholy guitar line which leads into Miller’s pensive voice as he portrays a personal journey. A cello soon chimes in, starting slowly, but eventually threading in a dulcet counter-melody which maintains its independence for the greater part of the song. At the last statement of the chorus, the three come together: with Miller’s passionate voice coming through strong, the guitar switches to just chords, while the cello harmonizes. At the end of the chorus, Miller jumps immediately into freestyle beatboxing, which drives the song until the very last cello note fades.
With a change of pace, the next songs “Live like a Warrior” and “Sunshine” take a much more upbeat chord progression. In “Live like a Warrior” the positive mood is contrasted by Miller’s lyrics, which speak about failing the expectations of others. The song takes an uplifting turn at the first chorus; the words “today, today, live like you want to” inspire the listener to move forward and, as the last line and title state, “Live like a warrior.” “Sunshine” has a catchy chorus, during which the guitar switches between flowing chords to more choppy/staccato chords, and then back again. Once again, Miller finishes off the song with lively beatboxing that still contains the melody.
“Searchin” is the shortest song on the album, and focuses on a reggae beat with a consistent riff shared by both the guitar and the cello. When the chorus comes up, the guitar switches to chords on the downbeats, and the cello plays a counter melody. While the chorus was catchy, this was my least favorite song. Miller didn’t always line up with the instruments, which made it awkward at points, and the flow of the overall song was sometimes hard to pinpoint. That being said, it was by no means a bad song; it just wasn’t on par with the others.
Maybe it’s just because I wasn’t enthralled with its predecessor, but I found my favorite song was “Bal Shem Tov.” Baal Shem Tov was an 18th century rabbi who believed that God could be found in all things, and as such his message is received as being very optimistic. The song definitely picks up on this optimism with the melody, which remains laid-back and positive, augmenting Miller’s message of finding personal truth and love. The song is both powerful and thought-provoking, and with the lines “it’s your life to live; I can’t live it for you. It’s your time to give; I can’t give it for you. It’s you’re fear to lose; I can’t lose it for you,” I think it is the highlight of his EP.
Surprisingly enough, “I Believe in Love” is a love song about the joys and sorrows of love, and one’s willingness to continue through great pain for a loved one. While the first part of the song has some very melodic and moving lines, the highlight is Miller showing off a bit of quality beatboxing halfway through the song until the end, where he tapers off and lets the strings fade into nothing.
The final song “Silence” starts with several verses of Hebrew and retains a sense of calm understanding until the end. Rather than simply aiding Miller, the strings and guitar act as another focus of the song with a few interesting riffs and countermelodies.
Overall, I really enjoyed the album. Not only did it show that Matisyahu is just as good live (I would argue he’s better), it displayed how passionate his music is, and how involved he is with it. All the songs evoke an emotional response, connect the audience to the musicians, and leave the listener with a sense of serenity. When push comes to shove, I just wish there were more songs on the EP.