With his six-foot-six frame, Michael Franti can see the horizon better than a lot of people. But it’s the little things the San Franciscan notices that make Home such an engaging album. Spearhead is a better-than-fine recovery from the political drudgery of his previous group, the cool-sounding but ultimately tiresome Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. (Franti and Disposable percussion cohort Rono Tse had started off together in the Beatnigs, using tape collages, declamation and industrial noise to make similar — and, in the case of “Television, the Drug of the Nation,” identical — points to the rap-ready Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury.) In Spearhead, Franti rolls the rip-and-read content into a mighty George Clinton funk spliff, chucking explicit polemics in favor of a far more inviting humanist sensibility.
Where Disposable Heroes spent its album issuing grim pronouncements on immigration, media, public health and racism over rocked-up Public Enemy-styled beats, Home (produced to a slow, Gil Scott-Heron bubble by Franti and Joe “The Butcha” Nicolo) takes a subtler route, shining a megadose of deliriously warm sunlight to illuminate serious issues-poverty, HIV, police, suicide — as well as such cultural signifiers as food, basketball and nightlife. An intelligent, articulate poet, Franti delivers his perceptive rhymes with a philosophical glass-is-half-full/”Love Is da Shit” attitude and a healthy appetite for life’s simple pleasures. Behind his mellow sing-speak, Mary Harris and toaster Ras I Zulu add busy vocal contrasts, while an instrumental quartet lays out sweetly flowing organic hip-hop, informed by the feel, not the beat, of reggae and sparked by harmonica, organ, chicken scratch guitar and horns. “I am deadly serious about us havin’ fun,” Franti vows in “People in tha Middle.” In “Piece o’ Peace,” a going-out-clubbing number that namechecks former Disposable bandmate Charlie Hunter (who co-wrote and plays on “Love Is da Shit” and “Positive”), Maury Povich and African Head Charge, he says, “We livin’ life at the top of our lungs.” But the grimmer end of Franti’s agenda receives a full airing as well. “Positive,” a thoughtful and provocative first-person rumination on the possible results of an HIV test, wonders “How’m I gonna live my life if I’m positive? / Is it gonna be a negative?” The mighty indictment of “Crime to Be Broke in America” enumerates enough specific information to make it resemble a Disposable number, but “Hole in the Bucket,” an internal monologue about the knotty issues of giving change to a panhandler, wittily couches the dilemma in an O’Henry story, leaving a lasting impression no litany of statistics ever could.