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Matisyahu, ‘Spark Seeker’ – Album Review

Spark Seeker
Fallen Sparks Records

Matthew Paul Miller keeps it real. The emcee, better known by his Hebrew name Matisyahu, gained fame as a bearded “Chassidic reggae superstar.” Those days are over; the Hasidic facial hair is gone. Though clean-shaven and blonde these days, the spiritual search continues with ‘Spark Seeker,’ an electro-reggae record that will keep your head nodding and your mind thinking.

This is Bon Iver-level earnestness, if not higher: When Matisyahu’s singing out the titular chorus of ‘I Believe in Love,’ it comes through that rather than being the decorum of curls or dress, his faith is about authenticity. The cynical would be put off by his directness, like when he gets instructive in name-checking the mystical founder of Hasidism in ‘Bal Shem Tov,’ rapping like a rasta Deepak Chopra that “it’s your fear to lose, I can’t lose it for you” and “search heaven and the seven seas, the answer lies inside you.” Rather than coming off as trite truisms, the sincerity of Matisyahu’s song delivers uplift. You get the feeling that he’s reporting from his own experience. Which is maybe why he cut his hair.

Transformation, then, is the key theme. It makes sense that Shyne, a Bad Boy rapper that ended up behind bars before finding Judaism and turning his life around, guests on two of the album’s most fiery tracks — as in ‘Buffalo Soldier’ and ‘King Crown of Judah.’ Most of the production is done by Kool Kojak, who’s done tracks for the pop chameleon Nicki Minaj, and the result is a survey of club sounds, from the ultra-anthemic ‘Fire of Freedom’ and affirmative pop of ‘Live Like a Warrior’, to the smooth sax of ‘Summer Wind’ or ecstatic prayer-song of opener ‘Crossroads.’

That is to say, a lot of ground is covered, in both inner and outer senses. What we have here is a product of a journey. Recorded in Israel, New York and Los Angeles, and revealing the inward travels of a thoughtful, maturing artist and man of faith, ‘Spark Seeker’ is as its name implies: a search for divine inspiration, one that is never complete.

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