CD REVIEW: Michael Cook - The sun shines at midnight
By Dan Cohen - 02/26/2009 - 12:36 PM EST
Artist: Michael Cook
Album: The Sun Shines at Midnight
Genre: Jazz-Pop, Folk Rock and Pop
Sounds Like: Tom Lehrer meets Louis Prima
Technical Grade: 8/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 9/10
Commercial Value: 3/10
Overall Talent Level: 4/10
Songwriting Skills: 6/10
Performance Skill: 3/10
Best Songs: Scared, Allison, Good Enough For Jesus
Weakness: questionable vocals
Let's start with the positives: Michael Cook has assembled a great band, recorded them in a wonderful studio with great engineers, and done fine work as a producer. His songwriting is in fact not too shabby, while a bit too cutesy at times. He's got some humorous songs that actually can bring a smile to your face (Good Enough For Jesus), and a couple of pretty nice ballads (Allison). Warren Vache's great trumpet work along with wonderful clarinet and backing vocals, make 'Scared' my favorite cut.
Those are great qualities, and not to be taken for granted. But...it's not enough to make me want to leave it in the car stereo or put it on the iPod, alas. There are two main problems with the album. the first is one of tone. The album's black cover and stark graphics indicate a certain seriousness of purpose. In fact, though the musicianship is first rate throughout, the songs are often comic- in intent, anyway. First cut, Radical Contingency, might indicate a certain free-form jazz extravaganza. But no, it's a jazz/pop number. The rest of the album proceeds along similar lines, with tunes about being scared in school alternating with pretty, wistful ballads about watching your kid on a swing, in the sun. Nothing wrong with that. Just that the album art doesn't quite match the album content.
The other issue I have is with Mr. Cook's voice. It's just not that good. And I say that with all due respect. I mean, it's not bad. He can sing on pitch, pretty much. He knows what he wants to do, vocally. And he's got decent instincts, for the most part. What he doesn't have is chops. He doesn't sing much. You can hear it in the tentativeness of his high notes, in the whole timbre of his sound. He may be a fine musician. This may be a project he's wanted to do all his life. But if he spent a year singing in a church choir, in a blues band, at open mics, with community chorus-- in the shower, for pete's sake!-- if he spent even one tenth the time building up his voice that his musicians spend every day practicing their instruments- this would be quite a good album. As a singer myself, perhaps it's a bit more of an issue with me. But it's unfortunate to see someone, someone with demonstrable talent, spend all this time and effort getting an album to sound so good, and then slap a vocal over it that is just not nearly on the same level. His voice is not bad. it's just green. It needs exercise, like any other muscle. A lot of great musicians make this mistake. Talking isn't exercise, not if you want to sing, just like walking isn't exercise if you want to run a marathon. The cliche 'use it or lose it' does apply. Just like with a regular instrument.
Don't mean to be too harsh. Michael Cook's a talented guy. Just...sing out, Louise!
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