Undercurrent (CD)

On his sixth album in 13 years, Matisyahu says, "This is the first album I've made that is produced by myself and the band without any outside forces involved. It's my baby. No compromises, full artistic integrity." Undercurrent underplays the stylistic flourishes of his previous albums and is a fairly subdued examination of Jewish faith through mellow reggae beats and old school styles. Written and produced by Matisyahu and his longtime band, there's a tightness in the sound and experimentation that comes from real camaraderie and friendship. Matisyahu gives the band enough room to stretch and go in directions that aren't really expected of reggae. Maybe it's connected to the holy aspects he's trying to examine in his album, but there's this spiritual sense that the band taps into that no one else can quite do. "Step Out Into the Light" starts off with a type of reggae vibe before it goes into a spaghetti Western-ish riff that's dramatic and spacious. The lyrics themselves are almost free verse as he scopes a type of imagery that veers into the surreal and subconscious. He's channeling some real emotion through his work without ever sounding contrived. "Back to the Old" is a direct retelling of Abraham's story after God's trial. But Matisyahu makes the story more of a spiritual journey than the Judeo-Christian roots of the original by combining his careful lyricism with music that's more emotional and less reggae than anything he's done before. Undercurrent seems to be Matisyahu dealing with grander spiritual issues than he ever has before, but it's done so sophisticatedly and sensitively that it never fumbles.

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Avrakedabra (CD)

In an era where Drake uses Jamaican producers and dancehall riddims in his hit singles, the nostalgia and desire for classic reggae is more apparent than ever. Although those sharp drum kicks, the dubby echo, and that bouncing rhythm are appropriated by artists all the time, the sunshiney, feel good vibe of Bob Marley has still been missing. But Morgan Heritage has that roots tradition right in their name. The songs are rooted in the foundation of classic reggae, but they mix it up just enough with synthesizers and modern production tricks to avoid this from sounding like a fossil. Taking styles of hip-hop and borrowing from the genre that borrowed from them, reggaeton, Avrakedabra is arguably the happiest, most upbeat album of the year. Following their Grammy Award winning 2015 album, Strictly Roots, the new record is an incredibly eclectic mix. "Selah" is less roots based and full blown dub. From the distant, mechanical sounds of the drum to the drops of disco whistle sounds, it's a modern take on the classic Jamaican sound. The vocals are pure modern R&B with rich layers and harmonies that contrast perfectly with the mellow rhythm. "Reggae Nights" is pure joy and a testament to the power of music. Its instantly addictive melody kicks in with lyrics that are instructions on how to listen to this album. Let your body and inhibitions go and dance to this. The music will take you over and you'll soon forget all your problems. Avrakedabra is bound to get your blood pumping, your heart going, and your body moving.

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