If anything positive has come out of these past anxious two years of the pandemic in a spiritual sense, it’s that millions of us were forced to stop in our tracks, abandon the day to day flow of activities and obligations and think about the big picture of life and what truly matters most. Whether we knew anyone who suffered or passed away from COVID or just heard of the toll it extracted on the news, we were all forced at some point to ponder our own mortality, the importance of the loved ones in our life and confront the reality that life is sacred yet impermanent.
The title of David Franklin’s incredibly insightful, emotionally impactful and melodically and harmonically rich album Passings says it all. We are just travelers passing through – and as we journey from day to day, change and loss are the constants we must confront, deal with and ultimately learn to embrace so that we may grow and evolve. Multi-faceted composer/artists like Franklin seem to walk among us and create masterful works to help and inspire us to overcome the temptation to succumb to grief and find the light of new paths along the way. Perhaps his extra-musical life as a professional psychotherapist gives him a unique perspective and intuition on the human condition beyond most new age artists.
On the purely musical side, in a realm where most artists strive to develop an identifiable sound on a single instrument, the element that sets Franklin apart from his peers is his ability to switch effortlessly between piano and acoustic guitar as lead melodic voices, allowing him a richer palette of expression. Combining that with nine tunes featuring the hypnotic, impossibly soul seductive bass of the great Michael Manring – and two featuring his guitarist son Alex Franklin – adds event deeper texture to the overall musical and harmonic grandeur.
The wonder and magic of this multi-faceted 15 track collection is that by being vulnerable and sharing his deeply emotional responses to losses and changes in his own life amidst the backdrop of the pandemic, he enables us as rapt listeners to collectively work through our own. While the ever present realities of COVID, climate change, extreme weather and contentious political play a part in his creative consciousness, the eclectic slate of music on Passings was composing during and after the loss of both his parents. Writing and recording this album was part of his healing process. “While I was grateful to be by their sides during their passings, I also really went inside myself, because of the pandemic.”
Franklin brings us into those precious final moments with his parents on two of the album’s most heartfelt pieces whose emotions are underscored by the beautifully lyrical and intuitive “dances” he creates with Manring’s supple, otherworldly bass excursion. We feel Franklin’s deep connection to his dad on the lush, contemplative and soul yearning “I’ll Never Hear My Father’s Stories Again” and the intimacy of how he felt being with his mother until her dying breath when she was dying and he said to her “Sweet Dreams and Travel Well” – a powerful, moving piece that is part meditation, part mystical journey.
While one might think an album titled Passings might take on a mournful, elegiac tone, the real emerging truth that Franklin imparts is the fact that these seismic emotional shifts can lead to new adventures in life that can be full of joy and wonder. To that effect, “The Meeting Tree” (featuring Manring and Alex Franklin) has an exuberant energy that’s all about forward motion. And “Carousel,” while written some years ago for Franklin’s wife Cecelia,” starts in a contemplative mode but then bursts open (with Manring’s transcendence helping illuminate the road ahead) with whimsy and optimism – making it a perfect thematic fit for the idea of passing into new possibilities afforded us by loss and change.
Another lighthearted gem embodying this concept is the appropriately titled “Laughing In Whispers,” where Franklin taps into his expressive piano capabilities to gift us with a cheerful sense of hope that emerges even after intensely emotional life experiences and years of hard won wisdom.
“As I get older, there are aspects of my life which have been shifting and ending,” Franklin says. “All these experiences created a time for me when I’ve been profoundly aware of what’s ending or passing. Interestingly, it’s not simply a time of grief. When things end, other things begin and life is ultimately transformed. Many of these songs honor what was and hint at what may be.”
Among the other fascinating pieces are “Ghost Tree,” another trippy Franklin/Manring “dance” whose sense of mystery pays homage to a special (and extremely rare!) albino redwood Franklin discovered and was inspired by during the pandemic; the spirited, freewheeling piano romp “When Shadows Were Analog,” a song about classic bulky analog recorders penned for his son Nico for his high school graduation; and perhaps quirkiest of all, the infectious and charming oddity “A Musical Essay (for music box), originally written for piano but transcribed onto a hand-cranked music box for a dance production. That last one is a bit of an outlier sonically, but its sense of innocence fits right into a place in our minds and hearts where we can imagine being spiritually and emotionally reborn after a time of great loss and shifting sands.
Ultimately, for Franklin and us as rapt listeners, the music on Passings is a prodigious and impactful chronicle of a life and consciousness altering time. “My belief is that as so much is changing in our world, it’s important to be a witness to it,” he says. “I may be able to influence and even change some things for the better, but by witnessing, I believe we honor the changes and the passings. These pieces are part of my witnessing and part of the healing I hope to be part of as the world continues its unending shift.”