Michael Franti & Spearhead "Soulrocker"

Michael Franti has a template for creating great albums. Its equal parts joyful melodies, beat-heavy rhythms, and lyrics packed with messages of love, peace, and social consciousness. Never too heavy on the preaching, but always with a sense of purpose, positivity,  and social justice, Franti shares his world view in ways that make you think while you dance.  

Soulrocker finds Franti teaming up with two young Jamaican producers. Stephen McGregor, the son of legendary reggae star Freddy McGregor, focuses on creating melodies with Franti and plays bass, keyboard, and offers backing vocals. He’s created hit songs with Drake and Rhianna. Dwanye “Supa Dups” Chin-Quee is the sessions beat master and another hit producer. Apparently their Midas touch transferred to the album as Soulrocker entered ITunes’ top ten on the day of its release, as well as hitting #1 on the Alternative Charts.

Franti began writing using acoustic guitar, but that incubation period is hard to imagine now. You sometimes hear it at the intro to songs but the folk is overtaken by shiny propulsive dancehall rhythms. The production is thick with heavy drop beats and synthesized production. Some of the songs sound like remixes ready for the dance floor. The prayerful “My Lord” whips up into trance worship frenzy.  “We Are All Earthlings” began as four chords on guitar but takes you to the party floor. “My Favorite Wine is Tequila” and “We Do This Every Day” offers classic reggae arrangements. “Good To Be Alive Today” features the Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra .

Franti gives credit to his producers for creating the fresh sound of the album, but there’s no question who’s responsible for the lyrics. From gun violence to political warfare, to refugee issues and climate change, it’s his vision that permeates his songs. In between the serious commentary are songs that celebrate summertime, love and family. I guess from his point of view these, too, are serious issues. If we could all be so relentlessly positive….

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)