As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I was pleased to recently discover acoustic roots musician Ethan Tucker, whose music encompasses folk, rock, reggae and blues. Over the last few years, this young singer-songwriter and guitarist from Olympia, Washington has been making a name for himself as a soloist while also touring with such legendary musicians as Jimmy Cliff, the Wailers, and Buddy Guy. He also frequently performs with Michael Franti, Slightly Stoopid, and G-Love, who all provide support on Tucker’s latest release, Misunderstood. The album was produced and mixed by Mario Caldato Jr. (G Love), includes tracks produced by Michael Franti, and was released on Slightly Stoopid’s label.
Opening on a light note, “Cool Kids” is a reggae-pop song co-written with Michael Franti, who performs percussion and back-up vocals along with Spearhead members Carl Young and J. Bowman on keys, and David Ralicke on horns. Franti also co-wrote and performs on the album’s first single, “Crazy Tonight”—a more introspective, acoustic alt-rock song featuring Tucker and Franti on vocals.
Continuing in the same style and theme, “Crazy” is a perfect fit for Tucker’s raspy vocals, while the introduction of an organ provides added depth and variety.
Though Tucker was born well after the peak of grunge music, his darkly brooding rock song “Never Be” calls forth the era with dueling, distorted guitars and serves as a fitting tribute to his Seattle-area roots. The angst continues on “Tease Me,” another alt-rock relationship song that’s one of the stand out tracks. Tucker switches to a reggae vibe with an underlying bossa rhythm for the title track “Misunderstood.” One of the most personal songs on the album, “Misunderstood” references his experiences with relationships as well as people’s expectations and desire to pigeonhole his music into a specific genre. Tucker then segues into “This Has All Been a Dream,” a heartfelt ballad with an ethereal cello accompaniment. The album closes with a cover of the Jimi Hendrix ballad, “Little Wing,” which is reimagined in a reggae version featuring Norwood Fisher (Fishbone) on bass and Thomas Pridgeon (Mars Volta) on drums.
On Misunderstood, Ethan Tucker showcases the full range of his musical abilities, presenting original and engaging youth-oriented songs that draw from multiple genres, proving that he is a young artist to watch.
Title: All Rebel Rockers
Artist: Michael Franti and Spearhead
Label: ANTI/Boo Boo Wax
Catalog No.: ANTI 86906/89-2
Release Date: September 2008
In his sixth studio release, All Rebel Rockers, Michael Franti digs deep into the dub/reggae pocket and pulls out legendary “Riddim Twins” drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare. From the moment the needle drops you can tell that Sly and Robbie produced this project. Franti has collaborated with the Riddim Twins in the past, but this time he “wanted that groove and a toughness to the rhythm” that just simply drips from a full-on Sly and Robbie production. Recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, and in Franti’s home base, San Francisco, this album takes the listener by the seat of the pants and gets your body rocking.
Franti is known for his social political lyrics and, with guitar and microphone in hand, he juggles the identity of singer, songwriter, musician, author, activist, documentarian, and new millennium bard. Born and raised around the Bay area, Franti’s love for music escalated during college at University of San Francisco, when he lived above the college radio station. In 1989, he formed the Beatnigs, an industrial punk band with DJ Rono Tse, and achieved minimal local success. In 1991, Franti continued his collaboration with Tse, forming The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Adding the guitar of Charlie Hunter, The Disposable Heroes broke through with in-your-face lyrics that dealt with social injustice fused to an industrial/hip hop sound. The success of their first album eventually led to an opening spot on the U2 Zoo TV tour and a project with novelist William S. Burroughs entitled Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales.
In 1994 Franti formed Spearhead along with bassist Carl Young. Spearhead moved away from the industrial/hip hop sound to a more soulful funk-oriented style, while retaining the socially conscience ideology. Franti released Homeand Chocolate Supa Highway on the Capitol label before deciding to start his own label, citing differences with Capitol over artistic direction. In 2000, Franti released Stay Human on his label Boo Boo Wax under the name of Michael Franti and Spearhead (necessary because Capitol still owned the rights to the name Spearhead). Stay Human dealt with issues of prison reform, corrupt politicians, corporate globalization, and more poignant issues related to maintaining self respect and dignity. In 2003, Franti released Everyone Deserves Music, which featured songs that he had written in the aftermath of 9/11. This album was both reactionary and therapeutic, with songs that dealt with the shock of 9/11 as well as songs that were written in order to cope with the fear of the changing world.
In 2004 Franti embarked on a documentary project in Iraq, Palestine, and Israel in order to put his “money where his mouth is.” Franti felt if he was going to criticize the U.S. occupation of Iraq that he needed to have firsthand experience. The result of this was the film, I Know I’m Not Alone, in which Franti talked to the culture bearers, the poets, artists, musicians and everyday people, including the soldiers, in order to show the human cost of war. Franti continued to write songs during his trip to the Middle East, which resulted in the 2006 release Yell Fire!. This album had such a distinct reggae feel to it that they were re-classified as a Reggae group. Franti collaborated with Sly and Robbie on this album and it seems only natural that he would continue this relationship on his new album.
All Rebel Rockers features the Spearhead core group: Carl Youngand Dave Shul on guitar, Manas Itene on drums, and Raliegh J. Neal, II on keyboards. Michael is backed by several very special guests including Zap Mama founder Marie Daulne and Jamaican soul/dancehall star Cherine Anderson. The album gets right to the point with the first track “The Rude Boys Back in Town,” a song that requires a decent audio system due to the deep bass and Dub effects that will shake your body to the core. The first half of the album is extremely danceable with themes ranging from social ailment, political injustice, economic woes and lovers’ laments. My personal favorite is the track “Say Hey (I Love You),” a song that is so catchy it will stick with you for days. Following is the promotional video from Anti Records:
The album also features several songs that fuse a heavy rock style with reggae/dub rhythm, which seems reminiscent of Franti’s early work with the Beatnigs. He has been quoted saying that he wants to give the revolution a dance party soundtrack, and he clearly states this on the track “Soundsystem.” Franti has taken the protest song to the next level by giving it a “beat you can rock your soul to.” He then shows a very personal side with “I Got Love for You,”a song that he wrote as his eldest son was preparing to go out on his own for the first time. As with most of Franti’s albums, the last track is one of hope. “Have a Little Faith”does not disappoint, and seeks to reassure the listener of the commitment Franti has to his audience.
Franti’s music is always in a state of evolution, from punk to funk to reggae/dub, it seems to really represent the complex fusion of identities in the growth of the musician and the man. His commitment to humanity led him to organize the annual Power to the Peaceful festivals in San Francisco and Brazil. He has also been named an Ambassador of Peace by the World Health Organization. “At six-foot-six, he’ll grab the mic, and take you to another level.”