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The Gospel Set

September 20, 2023

Bob Marovich’s Gospel Picks

Konai Adelphe: Living up to their name in sound and core beliefs…


Reviews by Robert M. Marovich


‘…earnest and genuine, with messages wrapped in Biblical wisdom’


Minister Kai Brown



Minister Kai Brown is no newcomer to gospel music. After having sung with his family during the 1980s and 1990s, he cut his first solo album, an R&B project, in 1995. He switched back to gospel soon after and has been singing and recording sacred music since 1998.

Musically, Brown’s new album, I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Thru, pulls liberally on his R&B experience, while the lyric content offers messages of praise and thanksgiving, encouragement, healing, salvation, and a heartrending testimony about his children’s health scares (“I Know A Healer”).

‘I Know a Healer,’ Minister Kai Brown, with Alicia Brown and Alice Brown, a heartrending testimony about Minister Brown’s childrens’ health scares, from I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Thru

‘Just Passing Through,’ Minister Kai Brown with guest vocalist Ronald Coaxum, from I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Thru

I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Thru is also a family affair, with featured vocals and raps from various Browns, presumably parents, siblings, and children. Tracks like “Praiseworthy” and “God Has Been Good to Me,” the latter featuring a rap interlude from William Brown III, have an electronic smooth jazz underpinning. “God Is Not Pleased,” which spotlights Alyche’ and Alicia Brown, riffs on Matthew 18:6. The lovely and gentle “Yahwey” is an ideal praise team selection and, it turns out, the album’s finest moment.

The title track and single, released at the end of last year, is a ballad that expresses gratitude to God for delivering us through trials and not looking the worse for wear. Opening with 2 Chronicles 7:14, “Heal Our Land” is a forthright acknowledgement that we humans have made a mess of the world, what with all the bigotry and disease, but we still come, humbly, to seek forgiveness and healing. Hearing the younger Browns on the chorus puts a fine point on what our mess could mean for future generations without God’s healing hand to fix it.

‘Heal Our Land,’ Minister Kai Brown, featuring Alicia Brown, Alice Brown and Alyche’ Brown from I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Thru

 All of the songs are radio-sized and have a certain sonic similarity, though the pillowy soul of “Just Passing Thru,” which contains a vocal assist from Ronald Coaxum and quotes from Psalms 23 and 84, stands out. The album would have benefitted from a final mix that brought the lead vocal further to the front so it is as sonorous as some of the rap sections.

While the singing is sometimes strained and less confident, I Don’t Look Like What I’ve Been Thru is nevertheless earnest and genuine, with messages wrapped in Biblical wisdom.

Picks: “Just Passing Thru,” “Yahwey”



‘…the youthful electricity of a megachurch prayer service’


Kell Bailey



Kell Bailey’s Evidence is a collection of bracing P&W selections with traces of hymnody embedded in their DNA. Whether the tempo is fast or slow, the arrangements are buoyant, the singing is extroverted, the musicians are tight and professional, and the lyrics, though aimed at a congregation, are ultimately lofted vertically.

In this follow-up to the Richmond, Virginia-born Bailey’s 2020 full-length debut album, Freedom Is Here, listeners will find it festooned with featured vocalists. Bailey passes the lead microphone around liberally. For example, the invigorating single, “Faithful God,” features vocal assists by Jeremy McKain and Mariah Lanee’. Cierra and Corey Kennedy team up with the VCU Black Awakening Choir on “Close,” which transitions to its musical twin, “Draw Me Close.” From there, it’s just a short hop to the Fanny Crosby hymn, “Draw Me Nearer,” which Cierra sings with prayerful passion. Corey’s compelling vocals return on the ballad “God Will Fight My Battles.”

‘God Will Fight My Battles,’ with featured vocalist Corey Kennedy, from Kell Bailey’s Evidence

‘Draw Me Nearer,’ a Fanny Crosby hymn featured vocalists Josh Orr and Cierra Kennedy, from Kell Bailey’s Evidence

Alicia Peters-Jordan flexes her powerful and melodic alto on the hymn-like “We Exalt Thee,” receiving ample support from the background vocalists’ tight, friendly harmonies. For my money, this selection, with its more relaxed musical backdrop, delivers better than most on the album.

‘God Did It,’ featuring vocalists Jeremy Mckain and Samantha Michelle, from Kell Bailey’s Evidence

On the light and cheery “God Did It,” featured vocalist Samantha Michelle sees her life plan blossom before her eyes and expresses gratitude to the Lord for what he has done for her. The album’s production is crisp and solid, and while none of the songs jump out as a surefire hit, they all have motive energy and are delivered with verve. Taken as a collection, Evidence thrums with the youthful electricity of a megachurch prayer service.

Picks: “We Exalt Thee,” “God Will Fight My Battles”



‘…living up to their name in sound and core beliefs’


Konai Adelphe



Taking their name from the Greek term for “equal sister,” Knoxville, Tennessee, female quintet Konai Adelphe (pronounced Ko-nigh A-del-fay) lives up to their name in sound and core beliefs.

First the sound: Konai Adelphe is a liltingly sweet singing group that eschews gospel’s trademark vocal fireworks and improvisational moments for a smooth pop sound. On the other hand, several songs on their 2018 album Everybody contain a snarling rock guitar and an insistently bouncy rhythm section. You hear this mix in particular on “Army of God,” a hypnotic call to holy arms.

‘Army of God,’ Konai Adelphe, from Everybody

‘Everybody,’ Konai Adelphe, title track from the new album

Next, the core beliefs: the swaggering hook-laden title track declares the oneness of humanity and our obligation to treat our neighbor with that in mind. The optimistic “Always Put Your Trust in God” has a lovely melody and is a most suitable selection for choirs and small groups.

While other gospel artists sing about stomping on the devil’s head (I’m looking at you, Shekinah Glory Ministry), Konai Adelphe goes pyrotechnic, blowing sin up on “Boom.” To affecting chord changes and harmonies, “Come Home” is essentially an altar call. “What will it take for you to come home?” the ladies sing. “The door is open.”

The members of Konai Adelphe are more vocally confident harmonizing together than as lead singers, though one of the members evokes the Stylistics’ falsetto lead Russell Thompkins, Jr. Several lyric lines are culled from well-trodden church clichés, but otherwise, Everybody benefits from superb production, great guitar and piano work (the latter especially on “He Lives”) and a peaceful, easy feeling from the quintet.

Picks: “Everybody,” “Next Generation”



‘Hope is the ultimate weapon against injustice and oppression…’


Earnest Pugh

Shanachie Entertainment


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.

‘Keep Hope Alive,’ Earnest Pugh, with spoken introduction by Dr. Jamal Bryant, from The Best of Earnest Pugh

‘Keeper of My Soul,’ Earnest Pugh, from The Best of Earnest Pugh

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 to generate 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.

‘The Great I Am,’ Earnest Pugh with guest vocalist Nakitta Foxx, from The Best of Earnest Pugh

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.

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



‘…radio-sized songs with uncomplicated lyrics sung with conversational ease’


Saved By Grace

Bless Up Records


Accepting an invitation from Dean Miller, who discovered the Christian group on social media, Saved By Grace trekked from their Erie, Pennsylvania, home to Omni Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. There, Miller helped the ensemble produce its five-song EP The Nashville Recordings. Maybe it’s the Music City atmosphere, but the EP reveals an easy-rocking country-flavored group that works in earthy melodies and hooky refrains.

Rebirth, or literally “saved by grace,” is the primary theme of The Nashville Recordings. The message is most explicit on tracks like “Let Jesus In,” a bracing guitar-dominated testimony of salvation. The hardest-rocking selection, “Look Forward,” focuses on forgiveness. Despite being the final track, “Closer to Jesus” is a narrative prequel to its predecessors: “I go to church now and then, mostly I was partyin’.” In lead singer Pastor Daniel Olson’s musky tone is the charred vestiges of a former life and the assurance of the new.

‘Look Forward,’ Saved by Grace, from The Nashville Recordings

‘American Revival,’ Saved by Grace, from The Nashville Recordings

The EP’s chief moment is “American Revival.” It’s a sing-along dose of eschatology complemented by snarling guitars and pounding drums. It shifts the salvation journey from personal commitment to national directive, “so when Jesus comes, it’s no surprise.”

Like a cross between a worship team and a mellower Marshall Tucker Band, the earnest Saved By Grace delivers radio-sized songs with uncomplicated lyrics sung with conversational ease.

Pick: “American Revival”


Bob Marovich’s Gospel Single Pick


Paul Porter and the Christianaires with guest vocalist Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson

Blacksmoke Music Worldwide

The rhythm section is as contemporary as this morning but the lyrics, melody, and vocals on “Miracle,” the new single by Paul Porter and the Christianaires, have a languorous southern soul gospel quartet sensibility. And when Paul Porter sings, “I know what a miracle can do,” he is quite likely recalling the serious disability from which he was healed some years ago.

“Miracle” also features Jerry Smith and the Children of Israel as background vocalists and a cameo vocal from the late Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson.

One thing’s for sure: it’s nice that the Christianaires are singing again, especially after the recent passing of founding member Tyrone Porter. The single is co-produced by Paul Porter and Ray Braswell Jr.





Chicago-based Bob Marovich is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Gospel Music, launched on the tenth anniversary of its predecessor website, The Black Gospel Blog, founded July 28, 2004 as the first blog to cover African American gospel music. A gospel music historian, author and radio host, since 2001 he has produced “Gospel Memories,” a show featuring classic gospel, spiritual and jubilee music, as well as interviews with gospel legends. It airs Saturday mornings on Chicago’s WLUW-FM and throughout the week on several Internet, low-power FM and terrestrial radio stations. The radio program received a commendation from the African American Museum of Philadelphia and earned Bob a Gospel Image Award in 2017. It was named Best Gospel Radio Show of the Year by the Rhythm of Gospel Awards in 2018. He was inducted into the Gospel Industry Network Hall of Fame in 2021. Bob’s work has been published in the Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music (Routledge 2005), Encyclopedia of African American Music (Greenwood Publishing 2010), and in the ARSC Journal of the Association of Recorded Sound Collections.

Bob graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1985 and earned an MBA from the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management in 2002. He is a member of the board of directors of the Institute for the Preservation of African American Music and Arts in Milwaukee. He lives in Chicago with his wife, author and educator Laurel Delaney.


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