The artists who have offered themselves as Bob Marley's rightful heirs are too numerous to count. Activist rapper, poet, and singer Michael Franti is too smart to fall into that trap, but his latest album -- partly recorded in Jamaica, where Marley's mentor Chris Blackwell was lured out of semiretirement to assist -- will encourage comparisons nonetheless. Yell Fire! certainly has an island vibe, encouraged by production from Sly and Robbie (Black Uhuru, Peter Tosh), but any connection to Marley is less musical than spiritual: The charismatic Franti sounds determined to get his antiwar, pro-tolerance message to the masses.
He should succeed; this is his best (and best-sounding) amalgam of rock, rap, reggae, and R&B yet. Franti has grown into his reassuring croon, and -- more important -- out of the stridency that makes major artists settle for minor statements. Ultimately, the sweeping solidarity song "I Know I'm Not Alone" says more about Iraq than a hundred tunes like Franti's 2003 rabble-rouser "Bomb the World," and Yell Fire! ends up a more subtle and rewarding plea for peace than its incendiary title suggests.