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Taken from Reno Gazette-Journal (Aug. 14, 2013)

Concert preview: Michael Franti shifts musically with new album

by Alan Sculley

Michael Franti
Michael Franti / Publicity photo

Michael Franti’s new album, “All People,” is likely to surprise at least some fans — especially those who have followed him over the long haul and associate his music primarily with hip-hop, reggae and funk and issue-oriented lyrics.

“All People” finds Franti moving toward more of a dance-pop sound, mixed with a few folk-flavored tunes and more of a positive lyrical stance that emphasizes love and good times over serious content.

“All People” finds Franti moving toward more of a dance-pop sound, mixed with a few folk-flavored tunes and more of a positive lyrical stance that emphasizes love and good times over serious content.

The album puts Franti more in step with today’s top 40 and pop radio trends. Considering he has gained considerable popularity with his previous two albums —2008’s “All Rebel Rockers” included the top 40 hit “Say Hey (I Love You),” while the title track of 2010’s “The Sound Of Sunshine” topped the AAA radio chart — some might see “All People” as his attempt to break through on radio and grab at least a measure of pop stardom.

Franti is aware of the shift in his music but, in an early-August phone interview, he said it’s just another step in a career-long attempt to evolve and grow musically, not a calculated attempt to expand his audience.

“When I was a kid my favorite group was the Clash,” Franti, 47, said, offering a case study to illustrate his point. “The Clash, they made all of these records when they were young and they only knew how to play three chords. And they sounded a certain way. They sounded like a band that only knew three chords. Then they started to experiment with reggae, jazz, funk, hip-hop, rap, and then they started making these records that could only be called the Clash. And then some of their songs started to get played on mainstream radio.

“And people said the same thing, ‘Oh God, now the radio is playing their music.’ But I listen back to all of their records today and I just hear this evolution of ‘Oh, they’re adding this to it, they’re adding this to it, they’re adding this to it.’ Now, it’s like the radio has come around to where they are. And that’s how I feel.”

No matter how one views “All People,” one thing that’s obvious is the album is different from anything Franti has done in a solo career that dates back 1994. Over the course of eight studio albums, his sound has blended hip-hop, funk, soul, reggae, folk, pop and world beat.

The eclectic “The Sound Of Sunshine” hinted at the poppier direction of “All People,” but still had its share of reggae tunes and organic instrumentation.

“All People,” though goes further in a breezy dance-pop direction, employing more synthetic beats and instrumentation. Uptempo songs such as “I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like), “Closer To You” and the title tune blend sunny melodies, big dance beats and techno instrumental touches, while even the ballads (such as the U2-ish “Long Ride Home” and “Say Goodbye”) have a rhythmic presence.

The latter three albums also have seen a shift in Franti’s lyrics away from the more serious — even angry — topical tone of his earlier albums to lyrics that are more positive, encouraging and inclusive. On “All People,” even the topical tunes (“11:59” and “Say Goodbye,” the latter inspired by the Trayvon Martin shooting) have uplifting messages.

The shift has been intentional, Franti said, and came from what he saw on trips to places such as Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Africa. As he played songs for people he encountered, he found they weren’t interested in commentary about the world’s problems so much as they wanted to hear upbeat, danceable music they could enjoy as an escape.

Franti’s outlook was further shaped in 2009 when he almost died after his appendix burst. It made him re-examine his priorities recognize the importance of his family and friends.

The themes of “All People” fit that overall philosophy.

“It (“All People”) is really about the age-old existential question, like I have a finite amount of time in this life and how am I going to spend it?” Franti said. “And maybe more importantly, who am I going to spend with? And what are the things that I want to do and how do I want to connect with people that I love and touch them in the most meaningful way that I can in my time on this planet? That’s really what this record is about.”

The songs from “All People” have been taking a prominent place in the live shows by Franti and Spearhead.

“We really love the new record that we made and the songs sound great live,” Franti said. “So we’ve been playing tons of new songs, and going back and digging way back into our files of albums and pulling out a bunch of really old songs, too, like from our first two records. So we’re kind of doing a combination of both.

“When we play live we want to bring across as wide of a range of emotions as we can,” he said. “That’s why we’re kind of bringing both of those things together.”


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