Prime Cuts: The Voyage, Heroes, Shepherd
Many of us were introduced to Amanda Cook when her song "You Make Me Brave" became the soundtrack of our lives when we were intimated by fear. Culled from Bethel Music's #1 album of the same name, Cook is not only one of Bethel Music's songwriters and worship leader but she's also signed onto the imprint as an artist. Joining Jenn Johnson, Steffany Gretzsinger, Hunter Thompson and others, Cook has released her debut solo debut. Utilizing "You Make Me Brave" as her launching point, Cook has decided to take a whole odyssey of faith into a brave new world of trust and dependence on Jesus. In many ways, this album is her travelogue where these 13 songs function as landmarks across her voyage. Each track poetically and artfully captures her (and our) struggles, hopes, and joys of what it means to journey with Jesus into her (our) brave new world.
Hailed from Medicine Hat, Alberta, Amanda has a dynamic history as a worship leader and songwriter that began at a young age. She has been a part of the Bethel Music family since 2010 and currently ministers in the US and internationally. Cook has written many anthemic worship songs for Bethel Music including "You Make Me Brave", "Closer", "I Will Exalt", and "Shepherd". Her newest song "You Don't Miss a Thing" is featured on Bethel Music's latest album We Will Not Be Shaken. For her solo debut, she has enlisted the help of three-time GRAMMY-nominate "Producer of the Year," Jason Ingram, and one of Nashville's most in-demand producers and drummers, Paul Mabury to share the producer credits. Cook, on the other hand, co-wrote or wrote all of the 13 songs, with three of them co-written with label mate Steffany Gretzinger.
Easily the first three songs on the record are the cynosure. "Heroes" is arguably the album's most propulsive number with its incorporation of some EDM lines. Not the Mariah Carey song of the same titular but a new co-write between Cook and producers Mabury and Ingram, "Heroes" is a call to trust God in the midst of our disappointments. What is most interesting about this record is that 8 out of the 13 songs use a singular word as its title. "Shepherd" is the second of such a one-word titled paean Drawing us in with her breathy Brooke Frase-esque vocals, "Shepherd" gets us to become co-worshippers rather than just mere listeners. With the same atmospheric built-up and intensification of emotions, the ethereal-sounding "The Voyage" calls to mind Hillsong UNITED's "Oceans."
However, the title of "Never See the End" is indicative of the nature of the song. This ballad just meanders and winds without every arriving at any recognizable hook that you wonder if Cook will ever reach her brave new world. Save for a couple of instrumentals, the rest of the album follows suit. Being mostly teased out atmospheric worship ballads with very nebulous melodic structures, it takes a lot of concentration to know where one song ends and where another begins. If these songs are meant to serve as devotional pieces used for one's down time to unwind before God's presence, then they could pass muster. But if they are to be used for congregational worship, the congregation will be severly challenged in finding any hooks to latch onto. This will sadly give rise to perennial complaints by church goers that modern worship songs are repetitive and tedious.
Based on the first triumvirate of songs, Cook shows potential. But over an entire album of material with similar tempo and rarely capitalizing on songs that are ear-grabbing, it can be a chore to sit through listening to the entire project. Regardless of how heartfelt the execution may be, a good song still needs to have a strong and memorable melodic structure, especially if it's meant to be sung by congregations. It needs to etch its way into our hearts via the ear. Thus, if there were a few more cliff hangers and a few more attention grabbing sites, getting to the brave new world may be a little more exciting.
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