Billboard Bits: Michael Franti, B.G., Lizz Wright

News on Michael Franti, B.G., Lizz Wright

FrantiOutspoken musician/poet/activist Michael Franti will record his next album in Kingston, Jamaica, with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell executive producing. Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and Mario Caldato Jr. (Beastie Boys, Jack Johnson) are also on board for the project.

The as-yet-untitled album is due in the fall via Blackwell's Palm label and was inspired by a summer 2004 excursion that took Franti to Iraq, Palestine and Israel. The trip has already spawned the feature-length film documentary "I Know I'm Not Alone," which recently screened at the Slamdance independent film festival.

Sly & Robbie will contribute live drum and bass parts to the set, which will also feature Kingston-based percussionists Uzziah "Sticky" Thompson and "Bongo" Herman, keyboardist Robert Lynn and members of Franti's longtime band Spearhead, multi-instrumentalist Carl Young and guitarist Dave Shul.

-- Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y.

BGRapper B.G. has slated a May 24 release for his KOCH Records/Chopper City Records album "The Heart of Tha Streetz." This is the third solo set for the former Hot Boyz member (aka Baby Gangsta and B. Gizzle) since exiting the Ca$h Money Record fold.

The album will be led next month by first single "Where Da At" featuring Homebwoi and produced by Smurf (aka Beatz N' Azz). A video will be shot in the coming weeks in Atlanta with director Jeff Richter (Knoc-Turnal, RZA/Method Man). Other guests on the album include Ziggler the Wiggler, 5th Ward Weebie and the members of the Chopper City Boyz.

"The Heart of Tha Streetz" is the follow-up to 2004's "Life After Ca$h Money," which reached No. 2 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and has sold 185,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

-- Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y.

FrantiVocalist Lizz Wright is readying her sophomore album, "Dreaming Wide Awake," for a June 14 release through Verve Forecast. The set was recorded with producer Craig Street (Cassandra Wilson, k.d. lang) and features the talents of guitarist Bill Frisell, Mark Anthony Thompson (aka Chocolate Genius) and organist Glenn Patscha (Ollabelle).

Wright co-wrote the track "Hit the Ground" with Jesse Harris (Norah Jones) and Toshi Reagon, and penned two other originals for the 11-track set. The balance is comprised of covers of Neil Young's "Old Man," Joe Henry's "Stop," Ella Jenkins' "Wake Up Little Sparrow" and songs popularized by the Youngbloods ("Get Together") and the Beatles ("A Taste of Honey").

The album is the follow-up to Wright's 2003 debut, "Salt," which debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart and No. 23 on the Top Heatseekers tally.

-- Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y.