All Rebel Rockers – Michael Franti and Spearhead
As I write this, the Republican National Convention is taking place with a coterie of half-truths, outright lies, twisting of facts where verbal Three-card Monte meets Bread & Circuses. It’s not surprising to find this happening. Hell, it worked in the past. Instead, what’s so disheartening is to find even a slight percentage of Americans taken in by this. Again. Over the past eight years, and more so following the current administration’s re-election, it’s been like shock treatment to the soul; the numbness and alienation that intensifies when you’re unable to understand how seemingly sane people fail to use the brain given to them and question the information that’s being served, particularly when its doled out by persons who arrogantly ignore the truth. What’s the matter with Kansas, indeed…
This comes to mind as I get set to review, All Rebel Rockers, the latest by Michael Franti, the longtime musician and activist. Throughout much of his life, Franti has been on the front lines — speaking out on hot button issues (i.e. Iraq War, death penalty), putting together the Power to the Peaceful festival, visiting war zones, and even finding members of his band receiving visits from “plain clothes men from the military.” Still, whenever I have seen Franti & Spearhead perform live, it’s not overbearing proselytizing. Sure, the message is there, but his concerts are celebrations of unity, a sincere Up With People moment that has more to do with self help guru Anthony Robbins than any political commentator.
Seeing Franti at Rothbury and All Good reinforced the idea that just as he understands how to mix a fine brew of hip-hop, funk, rock and reggae, Franti realizes that there’s a fine balance between making a point and entertaining. And, he’s able to ride that wave for all its worth. Besides, after the daily emotional drain since Election Days 2000 and 2004, he senses the importance of taking a moment to step away from the news of the day and just enjoy life, even in spite of the distant sound of Nero fiddling away. (In the new album’s press kit, he commented on the approach to “All Rebel Rockers,” “Some days I feel overwhelmed and this record is intended to wage a war on cynicism. It’s an invitation for people to dance in a world that is filled with chaos.”) And if Franti feels that there’s a need for us to party then, dammit (!!), LET’S PARTY!
After previously working with reggae rhythm/production superstars Sly and Robbie on the track “Bomb The World” with its misunderstood chorus—“You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb the world to peace”—the duo stick around for all of “All Rebel Rockers.” Through them the tracks offer nods to dub (“Rude Boys Back In Town”), classic reggae (“A Little Bit of Riddim”) and even drum machine-driven dancehall (“Say Hey (I Love You)”). With Matt Wallace also earning production credit, the overall effect takes some of the edge off the reggae tones, allowing the music to be as much a part of the rock world as stationed firmly in Kingston, Jamaica. Understandably, Franti makes references to life under the current political situation-the USA PATRIOT Act, government lies, Homeland Security—but he’s mainly concerned with the human condition and the personal relationships that can give the emotional sustenance to fight on another day. It’s why ending the album with “Have A Little Faith” is all-important.
Those who have seen Franti and Spearhead’s summer appearances received a good dose of this record. The significant thing to know about the studio version versus the live one — the thrill of the performance remains and you won’t feel the material dulled down from the sparkle of hearing it transpiring onstage. Tunes such as “A Little Bit of Riddim,” “Hey World,” “I Got Love For You” and “Say Hey (I Love You)” contain the same energetic spirit heard in concert without sounding overly fussed over. “All Rebel Rockers” not only finds an upbeat soul that peers through the darkness of our times, it does so on inspiring terms.