For the past several years, the music of Michael English has seemed to reflect a man trying to reestablish his identity. It’s not that the music hasn’t been good, because it has, but its oftentimes felt like English had lost confidence in who he was musically. Slick pop-flavored adult contemporary sounds dominated while lyrics of repentance and healing prevailed, giving insight into the artist’s well-documented ups and down but, while English continued to deliver, it just didn’t feel like he wore those sounds as comfortably as before.
Now, with the release of Some People Change, comments like those can be laid to rest as English finally sounds at home in his voice once again.
A big part of that feeling of homecoming is due to the production of longtime friend and member of Rascal Flatts, Jay DeMarcus. DeMarcus brings English back home to his roots, bringing a country tinge to the pop singer’s repertoire that really seems to fit him at this point in life. The opening track, “I Ain’t Givin’ Up On Jesus” is a great example of this. Touches of fiddle and banjo, buoyed by passionate electric guitar and soulful background vocals from the Martin sisters kick things off to a great start. The title track, a song previously recorded by Kenny Chesney and Montgomery Gentry, is another good example of English’s aptitude for country. The hope-filled lyric is sung passionately and the pop-country vibe fits the artist perfectly. And for those really wanting to hear English take it down South, the bonus track of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is a song that’ll make you believe.
Those strains continue on the worshipful call of “Come To the River” where English shares vocal duties with longtime friend, Russ Taff, who continues to sound amazing while longtime English fans will rejoice to hear “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” It’s a simple, stripped down arrangement that really lets the artist interpret the track and his heart is evident through every note. That passion holds strong on the Jonny Lang penned “On That Great Day” as well, The Martins providing background vocals on the subdued acoustic worship track.
Speaking of worship, English steps up to the plate and knocks one out of the park with “Waking Up the Dawn,” written by Jennie Lee Riddle and Michael Farren. Colored with perky banjo and a big choir, the song is a soulful slow burner, building to a crescendo that is classic Michael English. And any discussion of worshipful tracks would be remiss in leaving out the cover of English’s biggest hit, “In Christ Alone.” This version is stripped down and laid bare, the arrangement having more an “unplugged” feel to it that lets English really sing through the notes and give them worth.
Throughout the album, there are only really two tracks that are somewhat less than the sum of their parts. One of those is “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a cover of the track made famous by Aretha Franklin and George Michael back in the 80’s. English tackles it here with assistance from none other than Crystal Lewis and the duo do sound great; it’s just that the track feels out of place surrounded by so many rustic settings. The other track that is somewhat hit or miss is a cover of the Happy Goodman’s signature song, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now,” which finds English gathering background vocal help from his Gaither Vocal Band friends Mark Lowry, David Phelps, and Wes Hampton. It’s a fun song, with a little “English” on it, but it just sort of falls short in this mix.
But even with those sidesteps (which do sound good nonetheless), Michael English’s Some People Change is a right return to recording for the artist. Surrounded by warm harmonies, lots of acoustic accompaniment, and still in possession of a voice that carries passion and power with it everywhere it goes, this is the type of album that reminds people of who Michael English was and, even more important, of who he’s become.