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Groovy rhythms, childish rhymes

September 09, 2008|Mikael Wood

Michael Franti & Spearhead

"All Rebel Rockers"


* * 1/2

San Francisco-based Michael Franti has covered a huge amount of stylistic ground over the last two decades, playing punk with the Beatnigs and rap with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Whatever his musical mode, though, Franti always has kept his lyrical focus on the quest for social justice, and that hasn't changed with his current outfit, Spearhead, in which he flavors a reggae-based brew with dashes of everything else in his well-stocked creative cabinet.

To make Spearhead's new album, "All Rebel Rockers," Franti traveled to Kingston to record with Sly & Robbie, the veteran Jamaican production team. Sonically, the result is Franti's juiciest effort yet: "A Little Bit of Riddim" revolves around an irresistible funk-rock guitar riff; "Say Hey (I Love You)" has a sweet choral-vocal hook; and "High Low," which features Marie Daulne of Zap Mama, rides a dreamy global-soul groove.

Yet if "All Rebel Rockers" showcases Franti's growth as a record maker, it also reveals his regression as a wordsmith. "There are 6 billion people on this earth / Can you tell me what every single life is worth?" he demands in "Hey World (Remote Control Version)," sounding not unlike a sixth-grade social-studies student.

There's no doubting Franti's passion here, but you'll find these themes expressed more eloquently on records by M.I.A., another style-conscious internationalist with a fiery sloganeering flair.

Spearhead plays the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 21 with L.A.'s like-minded Ozomatli.

--Mikael Wood

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