Michael Franti & Spearhead: All Rebel Rockers

By: John Smrtic

There is a noticeable change of intention on Michael Franti & Spearhead's latest album, All Rebel Rockers (arriving September 9 on Anti Records). Yes, there are certainly songs about the state of the world with the fiery, thought provoking lyrics and brilliant social observations that have made Franti famous. But ultimately, Rockers is a highly danceable, reggae drenched album intended to foster a letting go of worries and troubles in its attempt to bring unity through riddim.

Legendary Jamaican producers Sly & Robbie are largely responsible for successfully manifesting of this new vision. The duo's reggae sensibilities are not completely new to the Spearhead sound as they fashioned some tracks on the band's previous album, 2006's Yell Fire! Combining Franti's rebel mentality with the reggae "rockers" sound made famous by Sly and Robbie, All Rebel Rockers flows as a natural progression in the Spearhead evolution.

The production and musicianship truly stand out on the first half of the album, where the lyrics may not be quite what we've grown accustomed to on the last three Spearhead albums. For instance, the dub sound permeates the album but is particularly brilliant on the laid-back stylings of opener "The Rude Boys Back in Town" and the downright sexy "All I Want Is You."

The unique combination of dancehall reggae with a rock backbone is notable on "A Little Bit of Riddim" and the charged-up, sing-along chorus of Franti's fearless look at death on "Life in the City." "Soundsytem" uses the rebel rock formula with subtle hints of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" to create a head nodding number, where Franti states the albums purpose:

Rebel music on the dance floor
Tell me what you fightin' for
Because this DJ gonna keep you alive
Forget about your troubles and your 9 to 5
.

Franti & Spearhead are at their best on "Hey World (Don't Give Up Version)." Musically more understated than most of the other offerings, acoustic guitar, finger snaps, minimalist bass, percussion and sparse keyboard lines merge to create a pensive masterpiece pleading for the Earth not to give up on humankind and vice versa. In a soulful, longing voice, Franti asks:

Tell me why it's ok /to kill in the name of the gods we pray
Tell me who said it's ok/ to die in the name of the lies we say
Tell why there's child soldiers/ tell me why they closed the borders
Tell me how to fight disease/ tell me now oh won't you please.

The percolating neo-soul vibe on the album is most evident on "High Low." Arguably the grooviest tune on Rockers, Franti muses on the dual nature of human experience and our tendency to always want to be high but ending up dwelling in the polarities of either high or low. Zap Mama founder Marie Daulne adds sultry vocals to the mix, further making it a memorable, steamy affair.

"Nobody Right, Nobody Wrong" eloquently addresses a similar dilemma of the duality of existence but this time with clarity and some resolution. As much as Franti has been an activist, his well-documented explorations of yoga practice and philosophy have turned him into a spiritual activist. Realizing that defining one's life by what you are against is no real way to live and only deepens dual experience and polarities, Franti is for peace rather than being anti-war. A matter of semantics you may say, but nonetheless, a real difference to someone courageous enough to bring the vision of peace and unity through music to the world. The track ends with the poignant line: One man got a jet fighter/ and the other got a song/ nobody right/ nobody wrong.

Infectious hooks, catchy choruses, stellar musicianship, top flight production and a mix of politically relevant and fun lyrics makes All Rebel Rockers another Spearhead gem. The album will doubtlessly provide a soundtrack for your life as summer turns to fall, whether you're in your vehicle, the dancehall or yoga studio. And really, what more could you ask from an album than that? A little bit of riddim makes the world go ‘round, indeed.

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Comments

snappy Sun 9/7/2008 05:42AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

snappy

I'm not even a Franti fan (liked him better as a Beatnig and Disposable Hero) but this thoughtful, insightful review gives me greater understanding of the guy's music. Nice one, John.

mmmFriedFrogLegs star Sun 9/7/2008 09:54AM
Show -12 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
guitarslinger13 starstarstarstar Sun 9/7/2008 11:48AM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

guitarslinger13

I saw him yesterday at his power to the peaceful festival in golden gate park and damn does he put on a show. I must say there are parts of the set that are just flat out corny but over all it makes for a great time. Expect to 'put your hands in the air' and answer to 'HOW YA FEELIN' YALL!?' alot as he promotes this album.

honeytribe23 Sun 9/7/2008 12:45PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Hows everybody feeling, Put your hands up!

timmytucker34 Mon 9/8/2008 12:03PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

no drum machines this is all organic,

just sly and robbie on the drums and the bass...

HoodooVoodoo Mon 9/8/2008 08:45PM
Show -3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
johnnygoff Tue 9/9/2008 07:09AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

johnnygoff

i dig the dude and his rap. I've seen him about 5 or 6 times. But that HoodooVoodoo comment above is great ^^^^ I gave ya a thumbs up on that one.

Z.Love71 starstarstarstarstar Wed 9/10/2008 12:00AM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I'm gonna have to disagree with your pretentious ass Hoodoo Voodoo. NO ONE puts thier hands up voluntarily at a show (unless your at a Third Day show) Its a way of getting the crowd involved and bringing them in. He puts on such a good show cause everyone feels like the show is for them, it personal. Just because your shit phish cover band hasn't made it outta the garage(and that doesn't make you a musician cuz.) doesn't mean u can tell other people how musicians should run thier shows. Spearhead....picked up the LP today! It's AMAZING!!

phalluscooper Wed 9/10/2008 12:58AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

phalluscooper

Apparently bashing Michael Franti is as trendy as bashing Bono used to be. The new disc is great with heavier reggae influences that ever. Looking forward to the Flagstaff show.

Danimal Wed 9/10/2008 06:12PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Danimal

He's good if you only see him once in a while.

HoodooVoodoo starstarstarstarstar Wed 9/10/2008 07:15PM
Show -3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Thu 9/11/2008 04:23AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

hehe.^^ I like the music from franti. don't care about raising my hands up, I will just NOT DO IT. hehe :P

Chap420 Thu 9/11/2008 05:50AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Chap420

I wanna see everybody JUMPIN! My legs always hurt after a Franti show!

MutilatedLips starstarstarstarstar Thu 9/11/2008 08:13AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

MutilatedLips

Just picked this up last night and I love it! Packed with good energy as always. I dont see what all you haters problem is. Franti puts on some of my favorate live shows. I enjoy seeing Spearhead a hell of alot more than WSP and alot of other bands people are in love with. But thats just my opinion. If you dont like it than dont listen!

joshpotter Thu 9/11/2008 09:00AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

joshpotter

Nice one, John. Hope to hear some of that deep dub in class one of these days.

phunkle starstarstarstarstar Thu 9/11/2008 09:46AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

phunkle

Took me a couple of listens but I do like the new disc. It didn't instantly grab me quite like some in the past from Franti. Several songs were not new to me having seen him live a few times. Personally I love his live shows. I can see how the "how ya feelin's" and "throw your arms up" might get annoying if you see him often. But I think most of us can't make it to every festival and every time he plays so it's a welcomed interaction from the performer. How many times at jamband shows are folks standing around spaced out with zero interaction with the performer? I dig that scene too, but that's not what Franti is about. Next time some of you are at one of his performances and getting pissed off, look around and see everyone into his show and loving it. Maybe you're the one that's not getting it, instead of Franti.

rainydaywomen420 Thu 9/11/2008 01:59PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

rainydaywomen420

Stop the war, i dont like guns, please recycle....wait, wait please everybody stop dancing, your dancing too hard on mother earth. Okay so how ya feelin?????

Flat5 starstarstarstar Thu 9/11/2008 04:47PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Flat5

you guys are hilarious! fun board. i got really trashed one night and kept calling this guy Ben Harper and he got kinda pissed. nice guy tho. Ive seen him once but I didnt really get into it. nice review sounds like hes tryin something different.

aburtch starstarstarstarstar Fri 9/19/2008 10:48AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

aburtch

Franti is great. He's putting out a positive peaceful message into the world. What's wrong with that? So what if he asks you to put your hands up, his live show is ten times more exciting than most bands on the scene. I'm glad he's experimenting with his sound, the new album is dub-tastic. Personally, I enjoyed more of the funk-rock sound of "Everybody Deserves Music." The Jamacian vibe crept in on "Yell Fire!" and was very successful. However on "Rebel Rockers" the dub sound has completely taken over and Franti has lost some of the more accessible funk-rock elements. It's his music, he can do what he wants with it, I'm just saying I enjoyed his unique sound and the new album sounds like a straight up Jamaican Sly & Robbie record.