Michael Franti sang in my ear as I read from the Guardian
. When you read about a bus blown apart by the Islamic Jihad in Shmuel Hanavi, you need to hear a voice like his. Franti is a calm, comfortable voice of reason in the midst of dreck, and the perfect soundtrack to downbeat Guardian
articles. As your blood pressure mounts and your heartbeat goes hardcore punk, Franti's honeyed tenor floats you back down to a calmer, more hopeful place. Music such as his -- informed and mordantly funny -- validates any record collection. It is as radical as cow dung art, but with sweet intentions. If enough people hear it, the music will inspire explosively articulate conversations rather than exploding buses.
Whether they expand their following or not, Franti and his band Spearhead engages us all in conversation, and their method is both pointed and entertaining. They know their Ecclesiastes -- there's a time to laugh, and a time to cry -- and rap in a humorously sly fashion as they discuss the social issues of the day. War, hate, love, drug use, homelessness, violence and disease spread like delicate, funny-looking flowers through their melodies.
Everyone Deserves Music's stated theme is community, spirituality and "connectedness" among people. The intended vibe ("Power to the Peaceful, Love to the Peaceful") is achieved via smooth melodies, funky rhythms and smart, often spare lyrics. The group has matured from the days of "Hole in the Bucket", becoming a band that knows the meaning of work, fatherhood and nuanced thought, and they present it through vocals that are now edgy in their peacefulness. Everyone Deserves Music excels beyond simple good intentions because Franti and Spearhead are also at peace with their musical influences. Standout "Yes I Will" sharpens both its message and its melody by borrowing a hook from the Clash's "Train in Vain", while using roots rock and a "whoo-whoo-whoo" chorus to punch the song along. Another gem, opener "What I Be", works killer bass grooves around some of the cleverest rhymes we've heard since De La Soul was dead.
It doesn't seem like a long time since Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Franti's first group, were hyped as prophets to a new hip hop revolution. That never happened, and wars continued -- both in gangster rap, on our streets, and overseas -- but Franti and crew deserve acknowledgement for their accomplishments. They are as committed to their social calling as Fugazi, but older, and smarter. Franti is "singing to the masses" with a softened, Bill Withers-like musical vision, ensuring that listeners of all ages will heed the call for change.