Thirteen years ago, Michael English was amidst the top of the contemporary Christian music crop, not to mention the pinnacle of his musical ministry. Outside of widespread fanfare and critical acclaim, that season also found the famed singer winning fourteen Dove Awards, including the highly coveted "Artist of the Year." Though the celebrated evening would be amongst his most treasured professional highs, the very next day found his personal life shattering into a million slices. Over the course of the next several years, that highly publicized fall from grace went from bad to worse, with a series of regretful decisions leaving the star spiritually, physically, emotionally and financially bankrupt.
Despite spiraling further than anyone could ever imagine, Michael had a life changing encounter with God several years ago and his life was dramatically renewed. Between now and then, the performer picked up the pieces with pastoral accountability and being grounded in the gospel, while simultaneously rekindling his love for artistry and public expression (as accounted in a recent autobiography). Outside of putting words to paper, he's also returned to crafting songs in the studio, chronicling an unparalleled season of growth and redemption on the aptly titled The Prodigal Comes Home.
"We made sure these songs weren't just a bunch of sad recollections of Michael English's old life," the performer shares with signature wit of his most vital, introspective, encouraging and empowering effort to date. "We wanted an album where people could relate to what I'm talking about and inspire them wherever they're at in life. I love great songs that say something, but I don't want them to be so full of brilliance that the normal person walking down the street can't even understand them. Hopefully the majority of songs on this record tell simple truths that people can relate to and provide hope even when it feels hopeless."
From an immediate insertion of the album, it's evident that English not only connects with instant reliability, but sews together a far reaching sonic swath. Under the all-star production team of Mark Miller (Casting Crowns, Sawyer Brown), Jay DeMarcus (Rascal Flatts), Bernie Herms (Natalie Grant), Matt Bronleewe (Michael W. Smith), Shaun Shankel (Avalon, Mark Schultz) and Dale Oliver, the eleven cuts showcase an impressive amount of diversity, but are tied together under the cohesiveness of English's rarely rivaled vocal range.
The lead single "The Only Thing Good In Me" has thus far lit up the airwaves across multiple formats as English sings of humanity's many faults, but points to God above as the ultimate source of healing and wholeness. Come the breezy pop reflection "Right Where You Are," those declarations find a tangible foothold, assuring listeners from any walk of life that they can be made new no matter how serious their prior stumbling block.
The lush orchestrations throughout "The Prodigal Son" also trace English's inspiring road to recovery, while "Breakthrough" is a gorgeous acoustic anthem of permanent change for the positive. There's even a cover of John Hiatt's classic "Have a Little Faith In Me," delivered with his signature blue-eyed soul stamp, while simultaneously telling a story of unconditional love and support.
"We had ten songs ready to go for this album, and then right before the holidays, my manager Norman Miller called and sent me one last amazing song," English adds of the cornerstone cut "Feels Like Redemption." "He sent me the track and kept asking 'so what do you think of it?' and I truly did think it was great, but didn't think there was any way we could fit it on this record. But the next thing I knew, I was in the studio with all the players and Bernie and it was like starting over at the beginning of the record!"
Though he chuckles at the whirlwind-like series of events, the track provides a particularly striking account of rebirth in all areas, which he's even more humbled to talk about given the series of previous missteps. Not only has English been completely delivered from all substances, but also experienced a second chance at starting a family, which he credits as the ultimate miracle.
"Sometimes I worry about how this will sound, but at the same time, I believe it's totally true — my wife basically saved my life," the tunesmith asserts of Marcie, his bride since 2002. "The reason why I say that is I believe God ultimately saves us, but God also sends people and does things to guide us in the right direction. We have a very strong marriage and the most amazing family to the point where I couldn't even see my life without her at this point!"
Beyond the couple's unbreakable bonds, they also welcomed the beautiful baby Issabella Grace in 2004 (Michael's second child following in the footsteps of his older daughter Megan). Though the family hit a bump in the road when Marcie recently miscarried twins, they've worked through all the hurt and pain under the assurance that those babies are in a better place.
"Even with bad news, God can turn your life around," English assures. "My wife and I had a really hard time hearing that news, but I think God allows these things to happen sometimes so we can understand what others go through. Now when someone comes up and says they've experienced a miscarriage, we know the pain of it, but we can also provide comfort that we'll see them in heaven."
Even in the aftermath of that latest ordeal and all the problems that have previously been put to rest, the singer suggests he's feeling a slice of heaven on earth so to speak. While it would be easy to assume that solace stems from the building success story of The Prodigal Comes Home and a tour with Avalon, it actually arises out of a recent family encounter that is perhaps the most pertinent illustration of his full-fledged restoration.
"I had been out of town all weekend performing concerts right around Christmas and the first thing I was greeted by when I walked in the door was the fragrance of a wonderful meal my wife was preparing," he recalls. "As I walked further into the house, I could hear Harry Connick Jr.'s Christmas CD playing and then saw how the whole house was beautifully decorated. Marcie greets me with a kiss and then I hear these little feet jumping down the steps saying 'daddy's home!' I wouldn't trade that for a million dollars — not in a million years!"
As Michael recently rejoined the Gaither Vocal Band, as a group member, this Prodigal's personal journey may have indeed come full circle; but an adventurous new season of spreading hope to the hopeless is just beginning ... as he continues to do solo dates when the Gaither schedule allows!