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Youth (EMI)

Although Matisyahu has been around for a few years, the novelty factor is still high on his third album. After all, can you name another Orthodox Jewish dancehall star? But those who can handle a bespectacled, bearded, yarmulke-clad performer breaking it down, island stylee, will find that Youth quickly turns the idea of a Hasidic toaster from Brooklyn into a perfectly sensible proposition.

Maybe too sensible, in fact: Without the visuals, Youth comes off as well-crafted reggae that betrays little of its unique origins. World music pioneer Bill Laswell, who knows a thing or three about the structure of Jamaican music and how to mix it with other styles, is behind the boards, but the busy drumming takes certain tracks uncomfortably close to dub-rockers like Sublime. To appreciate the music requires some foreknowledge of Matisyahu: The similarities between his devotions and the Old Testament testifying of Rastafari are intriguing, and lend an unexpectedly authentic connection to this music's Caribbean inspirations. If only his dexterous toasts didn't go by so quickly as to render some of those prayers indecipherable.

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