“Christmas With Earnest Pugh & Friends” (EPM Music Group/$15.98 MSRP), features an amalgam of some of the crooner’s closest cronies in the music business.
Being from a large family, on his first self-produced yuletide release, Earnest Pugh wouldn’t have it any other way.
“With very little money and twelve kids – music was all we had when I was growing up,” he remembers.
Pugh took no chances with the friends he chose to share this experience with ensuring they were each well matched to the song choice; their vocal iron sharpens his, each one as much of a smooth operator as him.
Conceptually, Pugh is interacting with children during a choir rehearsal to prepare them to go caroling throughout the neighborhood. This idea helps identify the “gospelness” of the album. Otherwise there is enouhgh jzz infused troughout the project
Pugh first displayed an inclination toward smooth jazz on the lesser known Hosanna from the 2006 Live album. From You Tube comments, fans precisely liked itfor itsrelxed groove. Smoothness is Pugh’s signature, jazz is not.
Musically, the producer places his special touch on the usual holiday titles. Upbeat and far from silent Pugh’s “Silent Night” is only usual by its name and the familiar description of the night that Christ was born. The warmest caroler on the fourteen-track smooth jazz styled project is his label mate, Chrystal Rucker who delivers a cozy rendition of the evergreen “Do You Hear What I Hear?” on top of a simple piano accompaniment. Pugh follows suit, warmly rendering “Ring Dem Bells,” a pizazzy mid-tempo version of the classic “Carol of the Bells” featuring soulful background vocals by Charles Butler & Trinity. (The original is a vocal sleigh ride and their execution is a more complex, very impressive homage to it.) Vincent Tharpe’s refreshingly unexpected R&B read of “Go Tell It (On the Mountain)” begs to be played on Adult Contemporary Radio with its Luther-esque bravado.
There are also some new cuts that prevent the album from being just another collection of remakes, such as the up-tempo “Christ is Christmas.” On the most memorable new selection on “Christmas With Ernest Pugh & Friends,” newcomer Martha Buries (Sunday Best Season 4) does a jazzy flip of Ann McCrary’s “Remember Not 2 Forget.”
What makes this CD special beyond its unique arrangements is its sentimental value. “Christmas with Earnest Pugh & Friends” is a literal gift, the fulfillment of his late mother’s dying wish. Said the crooning caroler, “This CD is near and dear to my heart because it was one of the final requests that my mother made just prior to passing away on New Year’s Eve 2006.”
The “Rain On Us” singer was aiming to make his mother proud and I believe he has with “Christmas With Ernest Pugh & Friends.” As for the rest of us, particularly those who like mellow music, the album satisfies setting a welcome new mood for Christmas without losing focus on the reason for the season.