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Taken from Soulshine (Sep 23, 2010)

Michael Franti & Spearhead - The Sound Of Sunshine

Album Rating: 2.5 / 5

by Richard Wilson

Michael FrantiMichael Franti & Spearhead return with The Sound of Sunshine, a followup to 2008's All Rebel Rockers. For the better part of a decade Michael Franti has reinvented himself with each album while retaining a uniquely Franti vibe. The Sound of Sunshine features a similar slickness of production to the Sly and Robbie produced All Rebel Rockers, but this latest self-produced album moves away from the electronic reggae/dancehall sound that dominated that album towards Franti's own brand of acoustic rock that for many years a staple of Australian festivals.

As the title might suggest, The Sound of Sunshine sees Franti take a deliberately lighter approach to songwriting, with some of the heavier subject matter Spearhead has long been associated with taking a backseat for 43 minutes of overwhelming, if not cautious optimism. The album name does afterall form the acronym S.O.S. Franti's own penchant for social consciousness peeks through at times, as in the rocking dance of The Thing That Helps Me Get Through, "It's a crazy world, a mixed up world / Involving politics and the underworld". (Not exactly the most profound words Franti has penned, mind you.)

It's in the opening moments of the album that Franti crafts a sound that will surely get crowds jumping at festivals across the globe (the familiar cries of "How you feeeeeeeeeeeelin'? Jump jump jump jump!" should trigger in anyone familiar with Franti's live show); Hey Hey Hey offering that familiar Franti live vibe, while the dancehall Shake It seeks to capture the sound of All Rebel Rockers that yielded Franti his biggest US hit to date.

The Sound of Sunshine is at its best when heavier; some of the softer ballad moments drag along a little as with the predictable Only Thing Missing Was You or Headphones, but at the same time the heartfelt Gloria works well with its Paul Simon Graceland-esque refrain of "Gloria" livening up the mellow R&B sound.

The Sound of Sunshine Going Down may well be the strongest track of the 11 on the album, the uplifting gospel-tinged song showcasing Franti's oft underutilised soft singing voice against an atypically stark organ-dominated instrumentation.

Michael Franti & Spearhead have produced a solid album that feels more genuine than All Rebel Rockers and less confrontational than 2006's Yell Fire!. It doesn't live up to the pinnacle of Franti's earlier works such as Stay Human and Everyone Deserves Music, but the lighter fare of The Sounds of Sunshine is a welcome addition to Franti's catalogue.


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