Earnest Pugh
The Very Best of Earnest Pugh
Shanachie Entertainment (release date: June 2, 2023)

By Robert M. Marovich

The Very Best of Earnest Pugh is the Texas-based singer’s album debut on Shanachie Entertainment. It gathers some of his most popular selections, such as the 2009 hit “Rain on Us,” along with two new tracks: “Perfect Peace,” featuring Zacardi Cortez, and “The Great I Am,” featuring Nakitta Foxx. It also includes his most recent single, “Keeper of My Soul.”

Those familiar with Dr. Pugh’s special brand of sacred music know there’s nothing at all subtle about it. Lead and background vocals and instrumentation lurch at the listener with the motive force of a freight train without brakes. Explosions of full-throated harmonies back Pugh’s Olympic vocal melisma. A thundering rhythm section pins arrangements to the pavement while filling available gaps with a battery of polyrhythms. It’s the soundtrack of a spirited worship service.

Unlike hymns, which are through-composed and emphasize melody, verse, and chorus, Pugh’s worship songs feel conjured in the moment, more malleable than permanent, melodies peering out from beneath numerous fulsome improvisational parts. They are eruptions of praise intended not to lull one into meditative quietude but into a visceral emotional response to the presence of the Holy Ghost.

Each of the featured vocalists, most especially Cortez and Crystal Aikin, were undoubtedly selected based on their compatible musical sensibilities, and if not, they certainly delivered on Pugh’s evangelistic purpose. For example, the late Bishop Rance Allen is heard peppering “All Things Through Christ” with his meaty tenor and trademark squalling that at the end sounds as if he is swiping swiftly through multiple singing personalities.

With a scorching spoken word introduction by Dr. Jamal Bryant, Pugh’s February 2023 single “Keep Hope Alive” interpolates a jazzy rendition of “We Shall Overcome” to demonstrate that hope is more important than ever. Hope is the ultimate weapon against injustice and oppression because it is the one thing an enemy can never take away. We cannot be beaten as long as we have hope.

Four of Five Stars

Picks: “Rain On Us,” “Keep Hope Alive”

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Written by : Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.