Taken from ColumbiaTribune (October 7, 2010)
Michael Franti and Spearhead bring bright rays of rhythms
by Aarik Danielsen
Autumn leaves are falling, winds are changing, skies are graying, but in Michael Franti’s world, it’s always summer. That’s because the 44-year-old singer-songwriter believes he is in possession of that which lets in endless beams of illumination and warmth.
MICHAEL FRANTI AND SPEARHEAD
Who: Michael Franti and Spearhead with Tamarama
Where: The Blue Note, 17 N. Ninth St.
When: 7 p.m. Monday
“Music is sunshine,” Franti said on his website. “Like sunshine, music is a powerful force that can instantly and almost chemically change your entire mood. Music gives us new energy and a stronger sense of purpose.”
Over the course of a 20-plus year career, Franti’s music has evolved to reflect those rays of light and life — now, his songs don’t just act as sunshine, they sound like it as well. With his band Spearhead capably backing him, Franti’s latest, “The Sound of Sunshine,” is the next point along a path that has moved progressively from politically charged, funk-flecked hip-hop to pop music that rings with soul, folk and reggae. Franti has tasted more and more success and was exposed to wider audiences at recent gigs supporting John Mayer.
The album Franti and company have dubbed “a kind of musical sun shower, a bright, beautiful and often buoyant song cycle” was born out of personal trauma — he penned quite a few of the tracks in the aftermath of a near-fatal rupture of his appendix. “Even in that hospital, I could laugh with the people I love, cry with them and start to find the sun again,” he said. The title track moves at a fast pace, its steady strum and sway part Jason Mraz, part “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”; Franti sings of going “where the summer never ends” in a loose yet rapid-fire delivery. An album highlight, “I’ll Be Waiting,” takes the basic underpinnings of U2’s anthemic sound and colors it with funky bass and reggae tones before closing on a jubilant, wordless vocal coda, almost chant-like in nature.
For some, these songs no doubt strike an affirming tone. For others, they’re enjoyable enough but break down on repeated listens, revealing a lack of heft PopMatters’ Max Feldman recently pointed out. “Sometimes it’s hard to escape the thought that Franti is a second-rate star, like late Lenny Kravitz or Terence Trent D’Arby at his most laughable and least fresh,” Feldman wrote. “Indeed, they all share a back-to-basics methodology that burrows into some imagined roots, united by the peace, the love, and the freewheeling antics of rock and/or roll mythology.”
Whatever people think of “The Sound of Sunshine,” Franti doesn’t seem like the type of fellow who’s bound to worry. A man who hasn’t worn shoes for the last 10 years, he seems supremely ready to walk out into the sunlight, regardless of who follows.