The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin
as a boy are very significant.
That’s youth. That’s innocence.
That’s the boy who loved the Lord
and sang to Him purely out of love before ANY other
considerations came into the picture.
I’m not rejecting the realities of
marketing and business.
I, personally Kirk am going back
to that place of purity that that little boy lived
as a natural matter of course”
Dubbed by many as “the church project”, but officially titled The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin, the project marks Franklin’s return of the sound and feel of the material that first grabbed the attention of the Gospel world back in 1993.
But don’t be mislead into thinking that the music here is a retread of familiar songs or perhaps tunes that have been baked too long in the musical oven. It’s not.
Recorded live at Houston’s Lakewood Church in 2000, Franklin succeeds in wrapping a set of thirteen new songs in a freshness and a vibrancy that embraces the ‘everyman’ in Gospel, while recognizing his own musical development over the past decade.
With the inclusion of marquee names in Gospel such as Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams, Shirley Caesar and Alvin Slaughter, there are perhaps some similarities to that other guest-laden project of Franklin’s, The Nu Nation Project. But it’s not quite that either.
Throughout, Franklin is backed by a strong crew of live singers dubbed The Vocals of Life (you’ll recognize some names), as he introduces no-doubt hit songs such as “Hosanna” and “Caught Up”. He continues with his incredible gift for penning melodies that are instantly singable and always cause you to marvel that no-one else had ever came up with that tune before.
On “Hosanna”, Franklin takes a beautiful melody line of praise and ties it to multiple modulations as the song generates more hype as it rises skyward. The praise is instantly accessible, you know the song is working after only five or six bars the hallmark of great writing.
Shirley Caesar steps into “Caught Up” and producer Sanchez Harley fashions a wonderful sound package with the crying words ‘’caught up to meet Him, can’t wait to see Him when he cracks the sky” searing the song into place. Caesar’s gritsy traditional appeal on this Franklin tune is a good fit.
Indeed, that is one of the many consistencies that mark Rebirth.
From the late Willie Neal Johnson’s old-time lead vocals on the choir festival, “Lookin’ Out For Me”, to the ingenious and immediate (albeit improbable) segue into a deliciously hot, hip-hop blended “He Reigns” (which includes a cover of Rich Mullin’s “Awesome God”) , featuring Papa San’s rapid-fire dancehall MC vocals, the choice of guest artists is never coincidental. Each song is the perfect vehicle.
“The Blood Song” is a balladic masterpiece, with contributions from five multicultural and well-known guest vocalists who span the soulful Gospel spectrum. There are two versions of the song on disk. The studio version features Donnie McClurkin with Crystal Lewis and Jaci Velasquez, with Yolanda Adams and Alvin Slaughter bringing it home on the live side.
The song says that the blood of Christ is strong enough to wash away our sins, and that ‘it doesn’t matter what color you are, as long as your blood was red.”
Gorgeously bright stylings, with funky bursts of horns comes at ya’ on “Brighter Day”; “My Life, My Love, My All” is praise material with Kirk Franklin at his brilliant ballad best.
The dramatic dialogue between Bishop T.D. Jakes and Franklin on the now-familiar “911” isn’t the only piece of spoken drama on the project, as several skit interludes are interspersed throughout the sequence of songs.
One particularly memorable one re-enacts the crucifixation scene on Calvary, and serves to introduce the song “Don’t Cry”. Richard Smallwood’s piano rendering here puts the point on this choir-based cut that pierces the heart with its powerful testimony of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Veterans of the Franklin band scene return, lead by keyboardist Bobby Sparks and guitar specialist Todd Parsnow, with Shaun Martin (keys), Kevin Taylor (bass) and Terry Baker and Lawrence Ferrell (drums) also laying down the grooves.
And just in case you thought that Franklin hadn’t taken Gospel music far enough on this album, he satisfies those concerns and then some with a hidden bonus track titled “Throw Yo Hands Up”. In a searing mesh of distorted guitars and jolting dose of urban shock, tobymac joins with Franklin (and also his wife, Tammy) in a praise meltdown of unprecedented proportions, with production help from Chris Godbey.
It’s always a challenge to describe a Kirk Franklin album, probably because words just can never do justice to the depths of musicality combined with the intensity of testimony and telling of his love for Jesus that he delivers.
That hasn’t changed with Rebirth, in fact, it’s increased. Listen, you’ll see.
— reviewed by Stan North —
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