Michael Franti's worldview and his music are so tightly entangled that it's difficult to imagine one existing without the other. So none of his fans could have been all that surprised when Franti returned from a 2004 trip to war-torn regions of Iraq, Israel, and Palestine and subsequently released both I Know I'm Not Alone, a documentary film/DVD based on his travels, and Yell Fire!, his most socially conscious album to date. While Yell Fire! is nothing as precious as a concept album, neither is there a song on the lyrically direct set that doesn't find Franti driving home a point, be it on the precarious state of our planet and those who've rendered it so, or the fragile condition of human relationships and the urgency with which people need to repair them. Recorded in both Kingston, Jamaica (the legendary Riddim Twins of reggae, Sly & Robbie, each guest on four tracks), and in San Francisco, Yell Fire! is stacked with deep grooves: the opening "Time to Go Home," "Everyone ona Move," the title track, and "Light Up Ya Lighter" all share a clarity of vision, attitude of great magnitude, and a levels-deep lyrical richness, all while kicking serious rhythmic ass. But even the texturally lighter moments -- the ballads "One Step Closer to You" (with harmony vocals by Pink), "Tolerance," and "Is Love Enough?" -- follow through on the album's thread of righteous positivity, no-brainer pacifism, accept-it-or-die tolerance, and the universal unification of spirit. Franti's brain-stimulating songwriting rises to a new level of proficiency here -- the playful "Hello Bonjour" is as much a shout out to truth and justice as the knife-sharp "See You in the Light." If there is a weakness, it's that the arrangements to which Franti's listen-carefully lyrics are set often fall subservient to his boosted-in-the-mix vocals. At times that leaves Spearhead's reggae/funk/dancehall/hip-hop amalgams necessarily shadowed by their leader's real-life, life-affirming commentaries. But never does Yell Fire! suffer for it. What Franti is saying here is what needs to be heard -- sooner than later.
Yell Fire Review
by Jeff Tamarkin