Michael Franti & Spearhead: The Sound of Sunshine

RIYL: String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams, Ziggy Marley

This is an aptly titled album, as practically every track beams out a catchy upbeat vibe to the listener. Franti has long specialized in feel-good grooves with a message, while also dabbling in bluesier and hard rocking flavors. But his bread and butter has always been the melodic, uplifting stuff. This album maybe overdoes it a bit, and lacks in the diversity that made for such strong albums with 2001’s Stay Human and 2008’s All Rebel Rockers. The latter yielded the band’s first Top 20 hit with the catchy “Say Hey (I Love You)” though, so it’s not a shock to see Franti and company looking to mine that vein further. Franti has been speaking truth to power for years with little financial reward, so you can’t begrudge him a thing.

There’s no call-to-arms, revolution-oriented track like “Rock the Nation,” “Yell Fire” or or “A Little Bit of Riddim,” which may disappoint some listeners. But Franti is still wheeling and dealing with the cathartic rhymes and beats as an antidote to dark times, including his own death-defying bout with a ruptured appendix last year. There’s more of an emphasis on the acoustic guitars, as well as a continuation of the reggae vibe that was a strong flavor on the last album.

The title track kicks off the album and sets the catchy, uplifting tone for the album with lyrics like “they can take away my job but not my friends.” “Shake It” pumps up the energy with an upbeat romantic number that receives vocal assistance from the dynamic Cherine Anderson, a previous collaborator. “Hey Hey Hey” remains upbeat but also features some of the cathartic, reflective vibe that Franti is so good at. “Anytime You Need Me” emphasizes a cheery reggae vibe.

One of the best tracks is “I’ll Be Waiting,” which bites the guitar parts from U2’s “Bad” with great effect on a tune about loyalty. The most rocking track on the album is “The Thing That Helps Me Get Through,” a high-energy tune with a steady beat and lyrics about getting down with that special someone as a remedy to a crazy, mixed up world. “Headphones” dabbles in some sonic ambiance to create a laid-back atmospheric effect.

The album doesn’t have the musical diversity of Franti’s past work, but it’s got plenty of the feel-good grooves that are his trademark, and this chaotic world can certainly use more of that. (Capitol Records 2010)

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