Michael Franti is the new Cat Stevens. At least half of the time, his sunny, humanistic outlook and folkie-yet-anthemic delivery, as well as his actual voice, recall the classic era of Yusuf Islam's previous life. But the other half of the time, Franti is Mr. Reggae, and for his latest effort, All Rebel Rockers, he and his band Spearhead have gone to Jamaica, No Doubt-style, to record with Sly & Robbie.
The best moments on All Rebel Rockers are those reggae-rocker moments (check "Sey Hey" or "Rude Boys"), whereas the folkier tunes tend to move into bland KFOG territory. Truth be told, Franti's strengths and weaknesses are about equal. He has an amazing knack for melody and good vibes, but he also has a frustrating tendency to cave into clichés. Proof? The very titles of the songs: "Rude Boys Back in Town," (Rude Boy is reggae slang, right?); "A Little Bit of Riddim" (no, no way is it "rhythm"); "Soundsystem" (what, no shout-out to Studio 1?). The band is stellar throughout, although the guitar-playing on the rock/folk tracks is a bit run-of-the-mill. Sly & Robbie play as well, as do Jamaican heavyweights Sticky Thompson, Dalton Brown, and Robbie Lyn. The real ace up the sleeve is Jamaican singer Cherine Anderson, who guests on three tracks, bringing real balance to Franti's presence (as well as a bit more authenticity). Marie Daulne (née Zap Mama) guests on one song as well, rather unmemorably.
So, getting back to Cat Stevens, just listen to Franti's "Hey World (Don't Give Up version)," and tune into the socially conscious vibes and ridiculous tunefulness. Or "Nobody Right, Nobody Wrong." You can't deny it. Seriously. Longer boats, they're coming to get you. (Anti-)
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