RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 14, 2012
Everyone’s favourite worship group are back. Finally!
Israel Houghton is arguably the most celebrated Christian singer/songwriter out there. In fact, his role as worship leader of Lakewood Church and song maestro in general, may mean that he is one of the most wildly recognised Christians out there, full stop. Winner of four Grammy awards (the music world’s highest accolade), Israel has penned some of the most iconic worship hits of the last decade. After going solo for his last two albums, it has been a five year wait for this reunion. Oh but it’s worth it!
Every second of a New Breed album is precious; Israel & New Breed haven’t wasted a moment of creativity. As expected, Jesus at the Centre has a suitably dramatic opening with a powerful Scripture reading (Colossians 1:15-20) taken from the Message translation. This transitions beautifully to the first musical piece, a big sound number “Jesus the Same”, complete with a fantastic brass contribution. The energy doesn’t let up with a dynamic follow up in “Rev Power”.
Israel knows exactly how to make the music work with incredible horns (check out “No Turning Back”), crazy keyboard skills and fabulous rhythms from percussion throughout. He calls it ‘kingdom music’, however one calls it – Jesus at the Centre is a delightful assortment of genres: soul, reggae, Latin, gospel with big sounds, quiet moments and everything in between.
As well as the stellar New Breed, Houghton called on a considerable troupe of friends to help him out… T-Bone, Michael Gungor, Aaron W Lindsey and Jeremiah Woods, to name just a handful. Even daughter Mariah features on an Bob Dylan cover “Make You Feel My Love”. Whilst on the whole the invites add to the fun, some may find T-Bone’s contribution to an otherwise lovely “Te Amo” jarring.
Thematically, the title Jesus at the Centre is a dead giveaway – the entire project focuses on Jesus. Fittingly, the powerful title track is central within the album. But from the beginning, we look at His unchanging nature in “Jesus the Same”, then His resurrection in “Rez Power”, His provision in “More Than Enough”, His bounty in “Overflow”, His awesome grace in “Speechless”, and His boundless power in “It’s Not Over (When God Is In It). The album ends with “Your Presence is Heaven” – looking forward to the time when we’ll be with our Saviour forever.
“Overflow” is a personal favourite, a less complex piece artistically but nonetheless a beautiful track. At over 10 minutes long, it is the longest track of the project but it showcases everything that is great about New Breed live. Similarly the title track is a powerful anthem that takes all the time it needs in becoming one of the most memorable songs of Israel’s career. I can see both songs being sung in Sunday morning services worldwide.
Jesus at the Centre closes with three studio recordings – “It’s Not Over”, “Jesus at the Centre” and “Your Presence is Heaven”. All are well done and contrast nicely with their live counterparts. Yet the closing moments of the live night deserve special mention. The series of medleys consisting of more familiar songs allows the listener to join in and worship.
I’m probably completely underestimating worship groups worldwide, and the flexibility of the songs themselves. But my only quibble with Jesus at the Centre is the same problem I’ve always had with New Breed projects. It’s almost too good to be true; in pushing the boundaries, have the group forfeited on the Sunday morning market, the bread and butter of worship music? How will these songs translate to churches worldwide? Whilst the album sounds spectacular, it will be very hard for the average worship group to emulate.
Undoubtedly, Jesus at the Centre is a triumph, a magnificent return for Israel & New Breed. After a considerable wait, this two-disc beauty is worth every penny. Fans of the juggernaut and his crew will rediscover every reason why they love this unique brand of worship; those of you who have been living under a rock can finally discover what happens when praise becomes an art form.