Kirk Franklin
Father’s Day
Fo Yo Soul Entertainment / RCA Inspiration (release date: October 6, 2023)

By Robert M. Marovich

“Welcome to the duality of reality, where sunshine and rain coexist,” Kirk Franklin announces on “Welcome Home.”

It’s the opening salvo on the opening track of Father’s Day, Franklin’s thirteenth album and first since the start of the pandemic.

Franklin’s declamation is the album’s theme and sets the tone. On Father’s Day, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. One has to suffer and die in order to live. As in the folk spirituals, trials on earth are resolved in heaven. On “Welcome Home,” Franklin and his treble vocal ensemble evoke a hereafter where all God’s children get together, free at last, leaving behind poverty, violence, sadness and tears, “political manipulation,” and “churches taking more than they really need.”

Even the album’s musical arrangements echo the paradox. Franklin’s choir sings cheerfully to bubbly beats, playful melodies, and fizzy arrangements. Franklin punctuates the singing with his trademark exclamation-point interjections. At the same time, the album’s mood is introspective, solemn, serious, reflecting Franklin’s maturity as a person and a songwriter.

Other examples of paradox on Father’s Day include “Try Love,” on which the choir chants to a jagged rhythm: “Don’t you know that you just may be / the only Jesus that they see?” It is we the people, not we the leaders, who hold the power to change lives for the better. To one person, each of us can be the world.

Another example is the album’s debut single, the upbeat “All Things.” Believing that God can do all things can be a challenge during times of crisis, but “just because He’s silent,” Franklin preaches, “doesn’t mean that He’s still.” It’s during the silence that He works. Likewise, another single, “Needs,” urges listeners to forsake the cacophony of commercialism for the free-of-charge quietude of peace, grace, patience, and strength.

“Needs” is a ballad reminiscent of Franklin’s hushed and woefully underappreciated “Pray for Me,” from 2015’s Losing My Religion. So is “Again,” which spotlights gospel’s new generation. Riffing on the old saw, “if He did it once, He will do it again,” are Maverick City Music’s Chandler Moore as well as Tori Kelly, Jonathan McReynolds, and Jekalyn Carr. “Again and Again,” with Kelontae Gavin and Maranda Curtis, is an encore of “Again.”  They sing that God is playing encores in our lives.  A missed opportunity is “Unconditional,” which doesn’t give its firebrand feature lead, LeAndria Johnson, the musical springboard to fully flex her vocal muscles.

The album’s sternest moments come at the conclusion. “Somebody’s Son” is a wrenching reflection of heartbreak. Franklin muses on his life, the good and the bad, and what he has had to live without. His craggy vocal articulates vulnerability. By the end, he recognizes that even the Son of God had to grapple with the identity of his true father. This song, more than any other on the album, explicitly references Franklin’s accompanying documentary Father’s Day. The documentary chronicles his discovery of his true biological father and the reconciliation with his own son. The song and the album end on a literal and figuratively heavy note.

Franklin has come a mighty long way since the release, thirty years ago this year, of his debut, Kirk Franklin & the Family. That album was young, brash, energetic, demanding to be heard. It hit the industry with the force of a meteor. Father’s Day, on the other hand, has pretty, poignant, and persuasive moments, all demonstrations that Franklin’s greatest gift is as a songwriter. Replacing the electrifying crackle, the shock and awe, of his earlier work, however, is a quiet wisdom that only comes by circling the sun a while.  A postmodern society where sunshine and rain coexist, with more of the latter than the former, only deepens the disquiet.

Four of Five Stars

Picks: “Welcome Home,” “Needs,” “Again”

Leave A Comment

Written by : Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.