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Taken from Epinions (July 14, 2004)

Michael FrantiSongs From The Front Porch:
An Acoustic Collection

Cookin' Out With Michael Franti...

by Paul Lorentz
Author's Product Rating: Product Rating: 4.0

A cool, jazzy vibe throughout, perfect for a steamy July afternoon on the deck.

Sometimes, it become background music a little too easily.

The Bottom Line
"Songs from the Front Porch" is the soundtrack for your next socially conscious barbecue party.

Hey man, whatcha up to? Wanna come on over? Me and the folks are havin' - you know - a little get-together over here. I got a twelve pack of Spotted Cow. Anna's got the little Weber out, we're gonna grill some boca burgers and tofu dogs and shit. Just hang out. You know.

These past couple of days have been the steamiest we've had this summer so far, and before I'd even shut the door of my car, I felt a little suffocated by the heat inside. The steering wheel felt tacky like it was slowly melting, and my forehead was glazed over in sweat. This is just the kind of day for an ice-cold micro-brew and "Songs from the Front Porch," Michael Franti's 2002 acoustic collection. Previously available only on the Internet, the album makes its brick-and-mortar retail debut this week. And the timing of it couldn't be better.

The songs here are mostly drawn from Franti and his band Spearhead's then-most-recent album "Stay Human" (a clever concept album about the death penalty that's actually more fun than it sounds), but also previews a couple of songs that would make it onto the band's 2003 album "Everyone Deserves Music."

Damn straight, their organic, man! What do you think I am?

Consistent with the gigantic close-up of Franti's foot that dominates the front cover (and back - in an even greater magnification) of the album, "Front Porch" has an intimate and earthy feel to it - and the atmosphere suits Franti's gritty baritone delivery (at times, like a latter-day Robbie Robertson) perfectly. Throughout the relatively brief album, the almost uniformly intense Franti sounds relaxed, and even playful.

Like on the song "Stay Human". In its original incarnation, it was an old-school funk jam with all sorts of vocal elaborations swirling around Franti's simple rap. Here, the back-up is reduced to some cool-man-cool jazzy strumming, and Franti, dispensing with the rap, seems to make up a melody for the words as he sings them, like an audio watercolor improvisation. So that when he gets to the chorus where he borrows a few notes from Rodgers and Hammerstein - the streets are alive with the sound of BOOM! BAH! - it feels even more spontaneous and random, like some guy (like me, for instance) who hears a phrase and can't help but singing the first song that comes into his head. Every flower's got the right to be bloomin'.

He does that kind of thing all over the closing "Ganja Babe" (originally from the 1997 album "Chocolate Supa Highway") - quoting Seals & Crofts here, and the Carpenters there - and I love him for it.

And hey, man. On your way over, could you pick up some zigzags? I think they got 'em at the Citgo.

Unlike most Spearhead releases, "Front Porch" doesn't strive toward Grand Statement. But it makes one anyway. About how hanging out with people you love, sharing music, and sharing the weather is one more step toward saving the world. Of course, none of that's in the lyrics. But that message is implicit in these performances. With its inexact harmonies, its handclaps, and its (you guessed it) prominent use of the cowbell, "Yes I Will" is the quintessential low-key party song. And Franti and the band work themselves up into a considerable lather on "Love Invincible".

Vibe is essential on the front porch.

And this setting doesn't always flatter these songs, but the overall mood carries them. And in some cases, the record's casual approach actually makes the songs feel more intense. On "Oh My God" and "Love'll Set Me Free", Franti sounds utterly alone. In the former, he's in a rage, ticking off a broad laundry list of the things that tick him off. In the latter, he tenderly sings the part of a death row innocent, and his voice is heartbreakingly sweet: so not-angry, and - perhaps most importantly - so forgiving...

Hate is what got me here
But I know that love sweet love is gonna set me free
All the hatred in the world is what got me here
But I know that love is gonna set me free

Though its subject matter fits in better with the rest of the album "Stay Human" on which it originally appeared, it's in this setting that "Love'll Set Me Free" feels most convincing.

Yeah, man, he can come over too. And whoever else you want to bring, bring 'em all over. Plenty for everyone. It's not our thing to turn a guy away, y'know? No way, man. That just wouldn't do. Know what I'm sayin'?

"Songs from the Front Porch" probably isn't the best introduction to what Franti and Spearhead have to offer - for that, you should start at the beginning with the 1994 album "Home" - but it's no toss-off either. It may not pull for your attention as hard as any of Spearhead's other albums, but when you are paying attention, this record pays you back.

- - - - -

"Songs from the Front Porch" by Michael Franti
BooBooWax - Imusic
Originally released 2002
General release 7/13/04

Produced by Michael Franti
40 min.

SONGS: Yes I Will - Closer to the Sky - Firefly - Love'll Set Me Free - Love Invincible - Anybody Seen My Mind - Sometimes - Stay Human - Oh My God - Ganja Babe




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