Album Review :
Israel and the New Breed - Jesus At The Center
- The Intro- Colossians 1:15-20 (MSG)
- Jesus the Same
- Rez Power
- No Turning Back
- Te Amo
- More than Enough
- I Call You Jesus
- Worship Medley
- Jesus at the Center
- Jesus at the Center (Reprise)
- It’s Not Over (When God’s In It)
- Your Presence is Heaven
- More and More
- Medley (Hosanna/Moving Forward/Where Else Can I Go)
- Medley (You Have Me/You Hold My World)
- Medley (To Make Me Feel My Love/Name of Love)
- It’s Not Over (When God’s In It) (Studio Version)
- Jesus at the Center (Studio Version)
- Your Presence is Heaven (Studio Version)
Israel Houghton, born in California and now a worship leader at Lakewood Church with pastor Joel Osteen; is a well-known name in Christian music, releasing plenty of hit songs, including ‘Friend of God’, ‘You are Good’, ‘Power of One (Change the World)’, as well as collaborations with Michael W. Smith on songs like ‘Help is On the Way’ and ‘So Great’. Infusing a conglomeration of musical genres together from gospel and worship, to jazz, rock, reggae and rap; Israel’s music is a celebration to listen to. Releasing his new album (together with the New Breed), Jesus at the Center, on August 14th; Israel’s 21 song album featuring medleys and studio cuts, guest vocalists in the likes of T-Bone, Aaron W. Lindsey and Michael Gungor; these harmonious melodies and great amalgamation of multicultural musical styles all coming together to praise Jesus is a great testament to how creative and beautiful music is an expression of our praise, adoration and thanks when it comes to acknowledging our part in the story of God. The first album I’ve listened to from start to finish from this Lakewood church worshipper; Jesus At the Center inspires me to tackle more of Israel’s albums, as I listen to his enthusiastic passion in the words ‘…oh Jesus, oh Jesus, Your presence is heaven to me…’ (‘Your Presence is Heaven’).
Originally on Israel’s compilation Decade that released early 2012, ‘Jesus at the Center’ is one of the albums’ first three singles, with both a live and a studio version of the hopeful melody. As Israel starts to proclaim over the light keyboard, ‘…nothing else matters, nothing in this world will do, Jesus, You’re the center, everything revolves around You…’; we are invited to sing these humbling lyrics as we understand that everything revolves around Him, and as we fully immerse ourselves into The Word and what He has done, all that we can do is to make Him the centre of our lives too! Declaring these words together is a humbling experience, and keeps everything in perspective, that ‘…from my heart to the heavens, Jesus be the center, it’s all about You…’ With both studio and live versions being just as worshipful; Israel has created a track destined for churches around the world! Similarly with both ‘Your Presence is Heaven’ and ‘It’s Not Over’ as second and third singles off the album; each possess a majestic anthemic quality about them, with either destined to become the next ‘Friend of God’ or ‘You are Good’ in the next few years. ‘It’s Not Over’ is a greatly motivational track that offers up comfort and solace to those broken and fallen. With a traditional gospel flavour full of choirs and Israel’s zealous passion leading the vocals throughout the live recording, ‘It’s Not Over’ shows us simply that, that ‘…it’s not over, it’s not finished, it’s not ending; it’s only the beginning…’ as we lay all our burdens and troubles at the feet of Jesus and believe that what He has in store for us will be something great, building up our character and love for Him as we seek His will. The backing vocals of gospel artists Jason Nelson and James Fortune on the studio version; and Aaron Lindsey on the live recording are both a great addition, highlighting the song as one of my favourites. ‘Your Presence Is Heaven’ is also a powerful anthem and a certain melody in churches soon. As Israel proclaims that God’s presence is what we long for in our lives, that the very soaking in the love of God ‘…is heaven to me…’; I smile in worship and wonder, proud and humble to call myself a follower of Christ. One of my favourite Israel Houghton songs ever, to end the album with the studio version is genius! Well done Israel!
Each and every song on the album points to God’s glory and Jesus and the throne of heaven, with their unique musical elements fusing together to form an album with one purpose and one focus, to lift up Jesus’ name. ‘I Call You Jesus’ is one of the most emotional and heartfelt tracks on the album; as Israel stands to proclaim who God is, and all that He can do. Featuring a mixture of strings, percussion and a mesmerising gang background vocal, Israel lets his devotion known as he asserts that Jesus is ‘…risen from the dead, You are the glory, the lifter of my head, You have the only Name by which we can be saved, I call You Jesus…’ This stirring anthem full of power and passion leads onto many more anthemic moments throughout the album, showing a trend of powerful prayers lifted up to Christ to praise His name and His only! ‘Rez Power’, ‘Jesus the Same’ and ‘Te Amo’ are all dance praise songs that are just full of life and hope, lots of energy as Israel starts to give God the honour, with the congregation joining in also. The repetitious lines of ‘…Jesus the same yesterday today and forevermore…’ (‘Jesus the Same’) is a vivid and active reminder of God’s unchangeable nature, and how we can always come to Him with arms out wide, always able to rely on Him for the things of our hearts. Both ‘Rez Power’ and ‘Te Amo’ are high energy gospel melodies, the latter featuring rapper T-Bone as guest vocalist, as well as Israel singing half the melody in Spanish. Though not really familiar with it, I know that listening to Israel proclaiming the words ‘…Te amo I love You, con todo mi corazón…’ (which is Lord, I love You with all my heart as translated by Google) is such a powerful motivational anthem. With such vibrancy and dance-infused melodies, Israel has created a gem through both ‘Te Amo’ and ‘Rez Power’, short for resurrection power. The words ‘…You’re alive in me, it’s Resurrection Power…’ show us how much Christ has done, so that we may live with Him for eternity!
Throughout the rest of the album, Israel brings some medleys and old favourites to the live-album lineup, yet still keeping the same energetic spirit as ever as listeners around the world come together to give Jesus the centre of their lives. Hymn favourite ‘I Have Decided’ has another makeover in ‘No Turning Back’, with different musicality, as well as similar yet different lyrics, with an added verse and chorus in ‘…wherever You lead, I’ll follow follow follow, oh oh no turning back…’ A riveting keyboard based dance beat as well as gospel vocalist Aaron Lindsey add a welcomed value to the song that is certain to capture the hearts of listeners and fans from all over the world. Fan favourites ‘Hosanna’, ‘Moving Forward’, Where Else Can I Go’, ‘You Hold the World’ and ‘Name of Love’ are all added to this fresh and invigorating live album lineup as medley songs, each seguing into the next harmoniously and effortlessly. Israel has also created an introduction that’s not to be glossed over too, with a 4 minute introduction to both the song ‘Jesus at the Center’, as well as Israel poetically reading Colossians 1:15-20 (The Message) against the backdrop of bells, strings and percussion. With the poignant passage reminding me that ‘…all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross…’, Israel’s album hopes to unify both man and God through songs about Jesus, the Saviour, restorer and healer for all mankind.
Overall: Israel’s album is a joy to listen to, and though not normally my first choice album, Jesus at the Center has about every genre covered from gospel to rap, hip-hop, dance as well as some heartfelt melodies of hopefulness. As I reflect upon how God holds all things together, I am amazed by creation, and through the epic quest of Jesus to earth, dying and raising to life; that I am able to be confident as I walk along with Christ through everyday life. Featuring some of my favourite songs from Israel of all time, this album certainly was a surprise in August- creating such a dynamic worship atmosphere as I soak in God’s presence, truly immersing myself in the fact that ‘…Your presence is heaven to me…’ A must buy if you’re a fan of Israel and the New Breed, this album stretches musical boundaries and incorporates a wide variety of genres. With ‘Your Presence is Heaven’ destined to be nominated for Worship Song of the Year at the Dove Awards; this is an album by a talented worship artist that You don’t want to miss!
RIYL: Michael W. Smith, Paul Baloche, Meredith Andrews, Kirk Franklin