2003 did not exactly go how Michael Cook had planned. Recently married, he and his wife Julie were settling happily into their comfortable newlywed life in Noblesville, Indiana. Cook, 24, was utilizing one facet of his musical giftings by serving as a worship leader in his local church, while he continued the pursuit of his true artistic loves, songwriting and recording, in his increasingly sparse spare time.
But that all changed quickly for Cook when he got a call from platinum-selling Christian and Latin recording artist Jaci Velasquez, inviting Cook to join her on the road for her 30-city Unspoken tour that fall. Velasquez had gotten ahold of one of Cook’s independent projects, and quickly knew that she had discovered a major new talent. In fact, the more she got to know Cook and his music, the more Velasquez was impressed. Her belief in Michael Cook and his artistry eventually led her to start her own record label, A’Postrophe Records, with Cook as her flagship artist. It was a dream she had been stewing over for some time. “I had thought quite a bit about starting a new label,” she says, but adds that the hectic pace of her dual Christian/Latin music careers, along with recent forays into television and film, as well as her own recent marriage (to musician Darren Potuck), had made the idea seem unrealistic at the time. But when Velasquez met Michael Cook, she knew the time had come to bring the dream of her own label into reality. “It was a no-brainer,” she says simply. “He has everything that I believe an artist needs to make it in this industry. His talent speaks for itself, and his ministry is very real and uncalculated.”
Cook soon began working on Imprint, both his own national debut as well as the first release from A’Postrophe. With producers Pete Orta, Richie Pena and Sigfrido “Ziggy” Diaz at the helm, the project’s early stages began to take shape as Cook experienced the whirlwind preparations for his first coast-to-coast tour.
Imprint, releasing in January, shows Michael Cook as he is, no pretense or artifice to be found. The tall, lanky poet is an avid reader who names writers such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Soren Kierkegaard, Thomas Cahill and Brennan Manning as some of his greatest life influences. Drawing on his Philosophy & Theology studies at Anderson University in Indiana (where his family had relocated from Ontario, Canada when he was 13), Cook pens literate, confessional tunes of faith, failure and freedom with a maturity that reaches beyond his quarter-century of life. His intelligent folk/pop/rock has already drawn comparisons to Bebo Norman, Shawn McDonald, John Mayer and Chris Rice, and the enthusiastic response he elicited on the “Unspoken” tour affirms the fact that he is the rare artist who manages to please both critics and the public.
The upbeat and engaging first single “Sooner or Later” conveys Cook’s frustrations with his own inability to do what he knows he needs and ought to. Because the vulnerable lyric is so immediately relevant to the struggles believers face, it is certain to lodge in hearts and minds everywhere.
“Lately” covers similar territory, with Cook noting that “Change is so much easier said than done” before lamenting that “All my good intentions, they just fade away.” Still, the song is far from a downer; its rollicking sensibility makes it a good roll-down-the-windows-on-a-fast-drive song to help clear the mind and heart.
“Old Man in New York,” an audience favorite on the “Unspoken” tour, is an engaging story-song about Cook’s uncertainty as to how to respond in a Christ-like manner to a homeless man in Central Park. “Broke My Bones” is a contemplative number that chronicles the struggle to turn over the will in submission to God, yet the ultimate peace that comes with such surrender.
Another outstanding track is “Learning How to Love,” a gentle ballad beginning from the viewpoint of God as He watches His children falter on the journey of life yet continues to love unconditionally. The quiet simplicity of the song moves the listener through the struggles and into a renewed devotion to the God of amazing grace. The song was a late addition to Imprint, but it is hard to imagine the album without it.
Though Cook admits to wanting to be a solid entertainer onstage, his overriding desire for his music is to challenge and encourage people to reflect upon their own faith, and to see the way we live our lives as a response to the unconditional love of God. “Understanding God’s love, and how that was expressed through Jesus, provides a freedom that cannot be offered by the quick fixes of the world,” he says confidently.
Cook and his wife recently returned from a two-week missions trip to Ukraine, where they had a new opportunity to see God’s love in action. Though Cook had been on a similar trip to Mexico while in high school, he says this trip made much more of an impact on him. Working alongside Mission To Ukraine, he helped to “meet real needs in practical ways that showed God’s love.” The team worked in orphanages as well as with the disabled; they also volunteered with LifeSavers, a pro-life organization within Mission To Ukraine that seeks to stem the tide of wanton abortions being used as “birth control” in this former Soviet nation that is less than two decades old and still experiencing many economic growing pains.
Cook says the trip inspired him to write a new song, “Diamonds in Your Heart.” Though it won’t make it onto Imprint, as the album was finished before the trip, Cook hopes to play the song live in the coming year. He is also hopeful that he will be able to use his new public platform in a practical way to raise both funds and awareness for Mission To Ukraine, an organization he is now passionate about.
As he pauses to reflect on his breathtaking year and the incredible opportunities that have been presented for him and his music, Cook says simply, “I feel blessed, really blessed.”
Source: Big Machine Media