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Taken from Kevchino.com (Sep, 2006)

Michael Franti and Spearhead

Yell Fire!

Anti | 2006 | Album

Rating: 8 of 10

by DRU - indie music reviewer


Michael FrantiAs a long-time admirer of Michael Franti, I was really looking forward to this disc. I first became familiar with his art-punk band the Beatnigs thanks to the patronage of Jello Biafra at the end of the `80s. In the middle of the next decade, I could recite whole passages from his group Disposable Heroes of Hypoprisy, but missed them when they played at my college, opting instead to see Shadow Project that night in Hollywood. (as Rozz Williams soon killed himself, I’m glad I went.) Since then I have seen him give talks, perform spoken word, and play both acoustically and with his band Spearhead.

For an artist of such breadth, it’s only fitting to keep producing works that embrace and evolve into other genres; the problem is Me. I don’t like reggae. I just don’t. I try and try. The closest I can manage is really dubby stuff like Sly & Robbie (who thankfully are both on this album!), but otherwise, what is a poor music reviewer to do? I can only take so much “One Love” on One Record.

But all is not lost. First of all, yes, I do feel like a total Scrooge saying all that. And if anyone can still sense the good in me and bring me back from the dark side, it’s Franti. So, armed with a new attitude and willingness to give the record a few more listens, I begin.

To me, Franti is first and foremost a poet. A consummate lyricist, rapper and speaker, both his voice and words just seem so naturally rich and beautiful. The verses of the opening track “Time To Go Home” have a delicate, melancholy melody that I might mistake for Ben Harper—other pieces are in this vein such as “Sweet Little Lies” and most of the end of the record. Yet by the bridge of the first tune, that familiar keen wit is in full-force, grittier, but not lost in anger. “Time To Go Home” also shows off some great orchestration. Minimal and open at first, it draws you in with lovely guitar lines and keys and establishes the inherent partnership of Franti & Spearhead.

The upbeat title track “Yell Fire” is next. One of the remarkable things about Franti is that it’s only the second thing on the record and through his baritone growl he’s urged us “to throw our hands up” (Whoo!) in the midst of a very serious song and somehow this is completely OK. There are more seeming contradictions that just work; the song at first presents inequities and horrors (‘Wall Street crime will never send you to the slammer/ tell all the children in the arms of the mamas/ the F-15 is a homicidal bomber”), but compare those to subsequent lyrics of the defiance and hope: “the shit you given us is fertilizer/ the seeds that we planted you can never brutalize her.” Like a master film director, Franti skillfully leads the listener through emotions. This is especially the case in track 3, “I Know I’m Not Alone.” The song speaks wistfully of a golden time when things seem more clear, more fair. I was cleaning the house, mired in my own problems, feeling particularly alone myself. I couldn’t help but stop what I was doing, absorbed both by its lovely pop hook and unavoidable and comforting refrain: “Even though I’m far from home, I’m not alone.” I thought of our people across the world truly far from home, and it made me feel stupid for feeling loneliness in my own house. But Franti is ever mindful of them; they are honored throughout the record, and so are others who are anonymous and forgotten. (Incidentally, the CD’s booklet is great—along with lyrics there are pictures from visits to Iraq and other world travels.)

“East To the West” and “Hello Bonjour” are both joyous. Even though they aren’t in my favorite musical style, I still enjoy the clever and pertinent lyrics/vocals. Franti deftly combines social commentary, history lessons, and somehow humanity and a bit of fun. “One Step Closer To You” seems like a very personal journey. In a way it’s a love ballad, but it’s also about personal discovery. Pink lends some soulful backing vocals here, proving my longtime theory that track 7 is good on every record. A couple of my other favorites are “What I’ve Seen,” with its haunting, tinkling guitars and somber poetry, and the intimate acoustic closer “Is Love Enough.” Mostly solo guitar and voice, it paints a striking and almost desolate picture, but the chorus urges us that change comes from each of us—if we can love enough, we can transcend the boundaries of class, geography, language and culture.

Overall the record won me over—though it was mostly the sad songs, I can honestly say that the reggae-infused numbers had me crack a smile or two. I might have even thrown my hands in the air.

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