When we first met Michael Franti, the tall, dreadlocked San Franciscan was the glowering face of “Television, the Drug of a Nation,” the one, minor hit by his agit-hop duo The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.
Back then, in the early 1990s, Franti was an indiscriminate ranter, taking on any issue that crossed his mind: mass media, war, race, “soundbite politics ... served to the fast-food culture, where straight teeth in your mouth are more important than the words that come out of it.”
Today, Franti is 44 years old and two decades wiser. He’ll still take on issues — his breakthrough 2006 album “Yell Fire!” was overtly anti-war — but on 2008’s “All Rebel Rockers,” Franti went to Jamaica to make a reggae-flavored party record packed with life-affirming jams like “Say Hey (I Love You),” his biggest hit to date. Weaved within those songs were Franti’s usual social commentary, only this time, coated with honey rather than vinegar. You catch more flies that way, you know.
On Thursday, Franti and his band, Spearhead, will play in Bend (see “If you go”); in September, they’ll release their seventh album, “The Sound of Sunshine.” And while there is still a message in the music, everything about the new record points toward a continuation of Feel-Good Franti. The first two singles are light as feathers: The title track is a breezy attempt to bottle the hope of a new day, and the danceable “Shake It” is about shaking it, essentially. Even the album’s cover art, featuring a smiling Franti leaning against a beached boat named “Unity,” follows the theme.
The sound of “Sunshine” can be traced to Franti’s ruptured appendix one year ago, which kept him off the road for weeks and reinforced his efforts to appreciate every day. Even so, if a recent interview in The Gazette of Montreal is any indication, the worries of the world are never far from Franti’s mind.
“I wanted this record to be able to give people something positive in a time of difficult global change,” he said. “Right now, we have tough times economically, this major oil spill, global warming and climate change altering our very existence and I knew coming out of surgery that I needed to make an album about staying positive in bad times.”