One of the hottest voices on bluegrass radio over the past few years has been that of Florida native Amanda Cook. She found quite a bit of success with Deep Water, her debut album for Mountain Fever Records in 2017. Songs from her second album for the label, Point of No Return, have been a constant presence on the Bluegrass Today charts since even before the album’s release several months ago. For this second album, Cook’s smooth lead vocals accompany a selection of songs from her band members and well-known bluegrass songwriters, making Point of No Return an enjoyable contemporary bluegrass listen.
Cook’s pen contributed to three of the album’s songs, including her latest single, Standing ‘Cross the River. Co-written with Thomm Jutz, it’s a haunting meditation on lost love, featuring quite a creepy atmosphere thanks to banjo from Carolyn VanLierop-Boone. Jutz and Cook also collaborated on Sarah, Dear, a sweet-yet-melancholy record of correspondence by a husband and wife separated by war. Its gentle, lilting melody matches well with Cook’s plaintive vocals as she sings lines like “Watch your sons grow up to be good men, and then in faith someday we’ll meet again.”
Also co-written by Cook is Time to Say Goodbye, this time as a collaboration with VanLierop-Boone. It’s a fairly straightforward breakup song that leans toward the acoustic country sound, though Cook’s narrator doesn’t waste time pining for the past: “I’ve closed the door, it’s time to say goodbye,” she reminds herself. VanLierop-Boone’s pen can also be found on one of the album’s hit singles, You Were Mine. Another ode to a past love, it has a grassier flavor than many of the other songs here. It’s not traditional in a Flatt & Scruggs sense, but has a nice late-’80s/early-’90s vibe that many fans should enjoy.
Farther on up the traditional scale is the strong Gospel track Lonesome Soul, written by Michael Ramsey. The musicians work well together to set a bouncy, midtempo beat, while Cook offers a good mixture of soulfulness and earnestness in her vocals. Dyed-in-the-wool grassers should like the furious picking that sets the tone for John Pennell’s Will You Be Leaving. VanLierop-Boone’s banjo sets the frantic pace, while Aaron Ramsey and George Mason also contribute some hot licks on mandolin and fiddle, respectively. Again, there’s a bit of that early-’90s feel here – Alison Krauss cut this one on 1990’s I’ve Got That Old Feeling
Other strong performances come on Merle Haggard’s My Favorite Memory, with a classic country treatment and spot-on, belted vocals from Cook, and the contemporary fiddles of the album’s title track, another radio hit. Ashby Frank wrote Point of No Return, and it feels very fitting for Cook on this album, as she celebrates a new record deal and radio success: “I’ve got plenty highway left to burn, searching for the point of no return.”
Cook has assembled a top-notch band here, and they interpret her blend of contemporary and modern traditional bluegrass well. In addition to VanLierop-Boone, Mason, and Ramsey, Cook is joined by Brandon Bostic (guitar and dobro) and Joshua Faul (bass). Together, they’ve created an album that should satisfy most any fan of contemporary bluegrass.