Given the fact that he’s an activist, poet, singer and musician, it should also go without saying that Michael Franti is a remarkably spiritual guy. That’s a given, what with earlier albums devoted to proselytizing about corporate greed, the dominance of TV, the need for peace, and universal affirmation. Lest there are those who are unaware, this, his latest offering with his steadfast ensemble Spearhead affirms that notion completely.
Franti’s combined raps and chants are single-mindedly affirmative, whether he’s singing the praises of God (“My Lord”), life (“Still Standing”), and his fellow man (“We Are All Earthlings”), or simply relaying a litany of things that need improvement (“Summertime Is In Our Hands”). Indeed, nearly every song is celebration of some sort, complete with percolating rhythms, shuffled tempos and Franti’s undiminished optimism. His exhortations take many forms, from brassy flourishes to techno tampering, with ample hints of reggae and rap predominant in the mix.
Franti himself defines a “Soulrocker” as “one who lives from the heart, with compassion for all, and possesses a tenacious enthusiasm for music, life and the planet.” That’s a description that fits him to a tee. Thankfully though, Franti still maintains his musical integrity without allowing his messaging to overshadow everything else. Even when he does appear to be a bit heavy-handed — and he does tend to border on that precipitously — he offers enough of a celebratory sing-along to keep the party appeal at a peak.
In truth, Soulrocker varies little from any of Franti’s earlier efforts. Franti is more inclined to change his topics than to change his tunes. Still, as a populist pundit, he’s both mesmerizing and motivating, one of those rare musicians who’s able to convey deeper meanings without sacrificing his popular appeal. That makes for admirable intents and festive results, qualities that Soulrocker possesses in abundance.