Taken from GuelphMercury (Sep 04, 2008)
FRANTI ROCKS, REBELS AND HAS FUN
by MICHAEL BARCLAY, FOR NIGHTLIFE
MICHAEL FRANTI AND SPEARHEAD -- ALL REBEL ROCKERS (ANTI/EPITAPH)
It's not enough to be one of the most articulate and entertaining performers working today -- because Michael Franti most certainly is, both on stage and off. His albums with Spearhead, on the other hand, are extremely hit and miss. It's all too easy for his political insights to get really preachy really fast, and musically he's had some cheeseball moments while mashing up R&B, rap, rock and reggae.
All Rebel Rockers, on the other hand, is a slam dunk for Franti and crew, capturing all of their live energy and featuring Franti in his finest lyrical form, finding faith and hope in an age of paranoia, surveillance and torture. Like any good hippie, he "wants to write a love song for the world," and he manages to do so several times over here with both total sincerity and an acute awareness that these are difficult days for optimists.
No doubt the feel-good vibe is due in part to relocating to Jamaica for the recording session, under the watchful eyes of reggae legends Sly and Robbie. The duo not only oversees reggae grooves both retro and modern, but they provide a bright pop polish that illuminates some of Spearhead's catchiest material to date, guaranteed to get a grin out of even the most hardened cynic. Yet he's not softening his message in the least, reminding us:
"I came here to rock/ to smash the empire with my boombox."
Unlike earlier albums, Spearhead here succeed at the slower songs as well as they do the reggae-fired rockers; a couple of tracks here might even land them a last-dance ballad breakthrough on radio. Franti's vocals in particular have grown exponentially; he's no longer an MC attempting to croon, but a compelling singer in his own right. The only minor dips in the flow happen when they boost the electric guitars and attempt to rock out. This band is excellent at what they do without trying to be everything to everyone; they should steer clear of the moshpit.
Franti is full of good intentions, and while in the past he came across as more than a tad medicinal, All Rebel Rockers is the first Spearhead album that feels warm and fuzzy from beginning to end. Other artists get points for dropping vague political allusions into music that's rarely any fun -- ahem, Ben Harper -- but Spearhead provides the full package.