On his new album, soul singer-songwriter James Cook goes from the end of the world to the place where he wanted to be all along.
Produced by Bart Rose at his Fort Worth Sound studio (The Toadies, Asleep at the Wheel, Larry Joe Tayler), The Other Side of Hell is a collection of 10 Cook originals that benefit from a stellar lineup of contributors, including Voice alum and Fort Worth bro Luke Wade, Courtney Patton, Sarah Hobbs, and Jeff Grossman with drummer Ricci Amador, bassists Ian Clark and Tim Maloney, and Zack Holiday on pedal steel and electric guitar.
The Other Side of Hell is a concept album that takes a chronological look at Cook’s personal struggles before and after meeting the person who would save his life. The Wichita Falls native’s penchant for engrossing narrative lyrics and riveting vocals delivers quite a punch. Equal parts grit, sorrow, and heart, the songs are a blend of roots, folk-rock, gospel, country, and Southern blues.
Cook said the openness of his savior, wife Stacie Cook, allowed him to emerge from darkness to be where he is now. “What You’re Doing to Me” is a sparse, breezy peek into the beginnings of Cook and Stacie’s courtship, while “We Both Know Better,” a powerful mid-tempo Americana-tinged track, features memorable harmonies with songbird Hobbs. Personal accountability forms the basis of the bluesy rocker “No One’s Leaving Here Alive,” and “Skipping Stones” changes gear for Cook to learn the value of patience. “Easy On My Mind” finds the singer at his most soulful and grateful.
The album, Cook said, is “the story of me losing myself, finding hope, and discovering what I’m made of and what I’m made for.”
The stunningly beautiful “Truth and Beauty” brings the album to a close with its sweeping gospel-tinged arrangements and flourishes of strings, horns, and vocal help from Wade as Cook conveys nearly six minutes of genuine, heartfelt reflection and peace.
“My life was at its lowest when I met her,” he said. “Many friends had written me off because of my poor choices. My attitude toward others was always pessimistic, and I had personal problems piled a mile high. I just wanted to be alone so as to not hurt or bother anyone. Stacie did more than love me. She showed me how to love others, how to start seeing the good in life and greatness in others. She showed me kindness, how to deal with my emotions, and how to stay focused on the things I want. She’s the reason I am who I am today, and for that I am forever grateful.”
Finding a good place to start writing while bemoaning a year’s worth of canceled shows only motivated Cook, who uses his music to support Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Red River.
Though he said he’s “constantly in Fort Worth” — he played at Magnolia Motor Lounge not too long ago — he spreads his tunes across North Texas and Oklahoma. His next local gig will be Jul 2 at Bob’s Off the Square in Granbury. — Juan R. Govea