Israel Houghton and New Breed
A vast swell of congregational voices rise in anticipation and exclamation punctuated by expectant applause … a glorious sweep into a lavish and extravagant service of worship:
From my heart to the heavens
Jesus be the center
It’s all about You
Yes it’s all about You
The heart and guiding concept for the evening rings out as Israel Houghton heralds soon to unfold prayer and proclamation with a dynamic reading of Colossians 1:15-20.
Performance meets passion and artistry in Christ-centered worship expression (and experience) on Israel Houghton and New Breed’s Jesus at the Center. Part old fashioned tent revival, part emotionally-packed cinematic soundtrack, part Sunday Morning service, a helping of Top 40 radio and 100 percent engaging, this two CD set /21-track download was recorded live during four services at Israel’s church home, Lakewood in Houston with a collective congregation of 29,000 people. Included are three bonus studio versions of three key tracks: “It’s Not Over,” “Jesus at the Center,” and “Your Presence Is Heaven,” the latter two helmed by über producer Ed Cash. Admittedly there is a preponderance of Gospel/R&B flavored music replete with Gospel choir, and supersonic horns. But as always
Israel models how to set up—and lead between—songs, inserting spoken-word transitions, preaching, and scriptural reading. He mixes old and new, familiar and fresh. As he and the team lead in worship, they regularly step back from the mic to encourage the congregation to invest more deeply and take ownership of songs that they know or can sing readily. This is participatory worship with a capital “P.” Style, skill, sensitivity, and emotion open the door for theology and not the other way around, which depending on your perspective could be a strength or weakness. That said, Houghton and New Breed with their myriad collaborators and co-worshipers, including Lakewood’s choir and mega-congregation have delivered a stunning, dramatic, experience.
Jesus at The Center
With songs such as the lovely “I Call you Jesus,” and a medley with classic “Jesus Is the Sweetest Name I know” and “Oh How I Love Jesus,” plus the title track, and “Hosanna (Be Lifted High)” (featured in a medley), the focus is undeniable. Israel and New Breed made an intentional choice to place Christ as the foundational centerpiece of this epic double CD set. Since it is by the Spirit we know the truth of Christ, and Jesus shows us the Father, the Trinity is implied, though not addressed directly; in fact there is no mention by name of Spirit or Father.
The project is rife with captivating and magnetic songcraft. “No Turning Back” featuring Aaron Lindsey is Gospel gold, and “Te Amo” with T-Bone encompasses divine romance, irresistible rhythms, and Latin rap to bring you to your feet and set you dancing in the aisles—simply amazing. Michael Gungor guests with Houghton on the evocative and encouraging “You Have Me/You Hold My World”; what begins laidback and jazzy augmented with plucked banjo and violin ascends to the stratosphere. But without question the hope-high moment is “It’s Not Over,” with the congregational version replete with a mini-sermon courtesy of Houghton.
One of the sweetest moments is a duet with Houghton and his daughter Mariah in a medley featuring the Bob Dylan multi-hit (previously recorded by everyone from Billy Joel to Garth Brooks to Adele—and Dylan himself) “To Make You Feel My Love.” Experienced in the context of worship, this beautiful song resonates even more deeply with spiritual and emotional power and meaning, not only of love between a father and daughter, but Jesus’ love for us.
There is undoubtedly material that just won’t fly in your local church unless you’re graced with the percussive/vocal power of Israel, New Breed, and their guests. Fortunately “Your Presence Is Heaven,” “Speechless,” and the title track (among others) will translate to any service style. It was Houghton’s intention to resource the worldwide church in all their beautiful diversity with theses songs. And regardless of your preferred worship mode, there will be a song for you. A song that points to, proclaims, and celebrates Jesus.