december 2011

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks

genita‘it washes over you with cleansing power’
Genita Pugh
Eternity Records Company (2011)
Available at

Pastor Genita Pugh of Laurel, Mississippi is making waves in the gospel community with her newest release, My Purpose.

Although I found Pugh’s 2010 single “Holy to the Lamb” more to my taste for its fiery, pulse-pounding intensity, My Purpose is a different kind of experience, more like pulling on a familiar pair of comfortable jeans than putting on shouting shoes. Pugh’s voice is warm and calming, a blend of pop, gospel and R&B. It washes over you with cleansing power, even on the album’s up-tempo churchy numbers such as “All the Ways of You.”

On her new album, My Purpose, Pastor Genita Pugh gospelizes R. Kelly’s ‘Can’t Sleep’ as a simple, quiet worship ballad, ‘Can’t Live’

The current single, “Can’t Live,” is a gospelization of R. Kelly’s “Can’t Sleep.” As a simple, quiet worship ballad, “Can’t Live” sets the mood for the album, which has many simple and understated worship ballads to offer. “Open My Eyes,” for example, finds Pugh weaving her legato vocals in a similar manner to “Can’t Live.” A bonus instrumental track of “Open My Eyes” seems to telegraph that it is slated to be a single.

“All for Love” is a smooth R&B-style ballad that teams Pugh with the affecting singer Tionne Williams, and “In the Presence of the Lord” has a slowly simmering intensity that brings congregations to their feet, arms waving.

It would have been helpful to include in the CD booklet a listing of the musicians and their respective instruments, because the unidentified pianist on “I Love You” did an exceptionally marvelous job. Nevertheless, My Purpose is produced with panache by James Roberson (JDI Records). He establishes the proper mood for Pastor Pugh to express her gentle and direct emotions.

Picks: “Can’t Live,” “In the Presence of the Lord.”


dillard‘injecting contemporary lit with old-fashioned church spirit…’
Ricky Dillard and New G
Light Records (2011)
Available at

Bursting on the scene in 1990 with the explosive and vocally aerobic “More Abundantly,” a song every choir subsequently learned to sing, Ricky Dillard and New G continue to inject contemporary lit with old-fashioned church spirit on their eighth CD, Keep Living.

At first, Keep Living tends toward a robust but ultimately middle-of-the-road approach, with songs such as “Speak a Word” enfolding a praise and worship mood into a gospel sensibility. By “He’s Been Just That Good,” however, the album’s disposition changes shades from contemporary to traditional, as Nikki Ross’s spirited solo sends the live recording audience at Detroit’s Second Ebenezer Church, and probably more than a few CD listeners, into praise hypnosis. The album stays traditional throughout the next four songs.

Ricky Dillard and New G, ‘My Soul Says Yes,’ a Chicago Mass Choir-style sanctified church wrecker led by the fiery, evangelistic vocals of Lillian Lloyd. From the new album Keep Living.

Song highlights include “My Soul Says Yes,” a Chicago Mass Choir-style sanctified church wrecker led by the fiery, evangelistic vocals of Lillian Lloyd. “Strange” is an interesting jazzy take on the Walter Hawkins composition, with Nikki Ross and LaVarnga Hubbard playing off one another’s sweet and saucy vocals, respectively. “He Turned It” is another high energy piece, and it moves along with a Middle Eastern riff. Karen Clark Sheard duets with Michael Stuckey on “The Sweetest Name.” Regardless of the song style, Keep Living finds New G producing those big, round full-voice chords for which it is well known. The group has a polish ensembles develop only after years of singing together.

Picks: “Strange,” “My Soul Says Yes”


santiago‘listeners can baptize their senses in the service…’
Juan Santiago & Uninhibited Praise
The Naro Group (2011)
Available at

Live praise and worship albums remind me of the album-oriented prog rock of the 1970s, when groups filled an entire side of an album with an improvisational jam. The long-play format gave musicians the freedom to create a sonic texture, or establish a musical mood in which the listener could bathe his or her senses.

That is what Juan Santiago & Uninhibited Praise’s sophomore project, Ultimate Worship Experience: Live, does. Instead of offering a collection of songs, it depicts aurally the mood or tone of the worship service, complete with audience response. Here, instead of bathing, listeners can baptize their senses in the service.

There’s so much mood it takes two CDs to capture it. The songs, which feel as if they could go on forever, are almost uniformly mellow, hypnotic and with major key melodies that blend one with the other. I say almost uniformly mellow, because “Healing Rain,” with Will Rhodes as lead, picks up the tempo in its second half.

The lyrics are vertical praise-oriented, though Bishop Pamela D. Spence’s exhortation on Disc Two reminds listeners of the human need for worship and prayer.

A couple of high points of note are (1) a cameo appearance by traditional gospel star Sara Jordan Powell on “I Give Myself Away” and (2) Santiago’s significant reworking of the spiritual, “Were You There.” Proving himself a deft songwriter and arranger, Santiago combines the P&W mood with gospel choir coloration and several key modulations for a ten minute-plus piece that is transcendent. Any gospel choir of substance ought to consider this arrangement for the Lenten Season, though I would recommend a second or even a third lead because on this version, April Umstead had to carry the entire improvisation. I felt for her as she poured out every ounce of energy, even after she seemed to have nothing left to give.

A roster of lead singers articulate the songs on the project, with the finest voices being those of Sunilla Rogers on “My Hiding Place” and Elijah Gelzer on “I Worship You.”

Just like the prog rock concept LPs of the 1970s, Ultimate Worship Experience: Live needs to be heard in its entirety. Even if you are not a fan of P&W, do check out “Were You There.” It's a winner.

Picks: “Were You There,” “Healing Rain”


rok‘Looking for love? Look up.’
Testimony Records (2011)
Available at

With a head full of dreadlocks and Rok as his professional name, you would anticipate that Rokeem Pough is a Christian hip-hop artist.

You’d be wrong. He’s a smooth contemporary gospel singer-songwriter and a pretty good one at that.

Originally from the Bronx and now living in Harlem, Rok has packaged his songs and style in a new CD, Born 2 Sing. It is a collection of quiet storm-style inspirational songs and a thematic message that Rok articulates most concretely in “I’ll Follow You”: “In this world there’s no one/Who can love you quite like me.”

“Me” refers not to Rok but to God, and on selections such as the tuneful “God’s Love,” Rok croons that the Supreme Being is the one true north, whether you are a jilted newlywed or the father of a headstrong son. “To Fall in Love” is yet another rumination on the immutability of God’s love for His children.

Rok possesses a gentle, breezy baritone straight from the Peabo Bryson school and a knack for co-writing (with Xavier O’Connor of Testimony Ministries, Inc.) simple, delicate songs that one might say sound similar in texture, but are not so much similar as consistent.

“I Love You” is a praise song with good structure and melody and a refreshing change from the same ol’, same ol’ P&W melodies in vogue today. The brassy “In You” demonstrates Rok’s Stevie Wonder influence. The singer also credits Commissioned and Fred Hammond, Take 6 and Wintley Phipps among his musical influences, and you can hear them all behind his songs and arrangements. The only misstep on this otherwise fine collection is that the album opening title track feels incomplete.

On Born 2 Sing, Rok concludes that if you’re looking for love in all the wrong places, look up.

Picks: “I Love You,” “In You.”


bullock‘smart song selection and diverse arrangements…’
Amber Bullock
Music World Gospel (2011)
Available at

Amber Bullock is the latest gospel chanteuse to earn top accolades on BET’s popular Sunday Best, taking home the crown during Season Four.

Bullock's debut CD, Thank You, is a seven-track EP with a smart song selection and diverse arrangements to showcase her singing. The current single and title track is a spunky reworking of the Walter Hawkins classic and the album’s finest moment, although a close second is “For Every Mountain.” The Kurt Carr ode to thanksgiving teams Bullock with a small brush-on-snare jazz combo. Bullock sings with such intimacy that the song sounds at least semi-autobiographical.

On Sunday Best, Season Four winner Amber Bullock offers a spunky, topical reworking of the Walter Hawkins classic, ‘Thank You, Lord,’ the title track from her debut album.

Another high point is Bullock’s rendering of Chris Tomlin’s iconic P&W anthem “How Great is Our God,” which she gives a far more gospel workover than most artists do.

The ‘80s-style beat supporting “If It Had Not Been for the Lord” is somewhat heavy-handed. Similarly, the Brazilian jazz accompaniment to “A City Called Heaven” is clever but mismatched. On the other hand, Richard Smallwood’s “Secret Place” and J. Moss’s “We Must Praise” are ideal binders for Bullock’s vocal arsenal of colorful and well-placed runs and trills.

Overall, Thank You declares that Amber Bullock is an artist with plenty of promise. My wish for her, and for her labelmate Le’Andria Johnson, is that they will be able to get beyond the initial novelty of being Sunday Best winners and go on to develop successful careers in their own right. They both have the chops for it.

Picks: “Thank You,” “For Every Mountain.”

picksBob Marovich is a gospel music historian, radio announcer, and author. In its seventh season, Bob's "Gospel Memories" program of vintage black gospel music and artist interviews airs live first Sundays from 3:00 to 7:30 a.m. on Chicago's WLUW 88.7 FM, and streams live at Snippets of recent broadcasts can be heard at Bob is also editor of The Black Gospel Blog:


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