Columbia/Integrity (2012) www.israelhoughton.com
By Bob Marovich for The Black Gospel Blog.
Jesus at the Center finds Israel & New Breed at the very top of their game.
The talented, hard-working, and seemingly genuine Israel Houghton leads his tuneful and turbocharged ensemble, with its distinctive amalgam of CCM, rock, and gospel, through 18 songs recorded live at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, where he serves as a worship leader. The two CD set also contains three studio versions of the album’s key singles.
With the exception of “It’s Not Over (When God Is In It),” which benefits from the intense vocals of James Fortune and Jason Nelson, the studio versions pale in comparison to the hard-driving, full-throttle extended performances from the live programs. The first half-dozen tracks on disc one are particularly energetic, with “No Turning Back” punctuated by an extroverted horn section and “More than Enough” serving as the all-enveloping sing along for which New Breed is known.
Other highlights include the trio of Daniel Johnson, Onaje Jefferson, and Charlin Moore giving the “Church Medley” of congregational songs a blistering reading, and Houghton teaching the crowd some Spanish so they can sing along to “Te Amo.”
Although the second disc is calmer and more introspective than the first, the overall vibe still pulsates, like a heart beating after a 10K race. When on "Your Presence is Heaven," Houghton sings, “Jesus, you’re the cup that won’t run dry,” you can almost feel the stillness of the crowd savoring the analogy. During another medley, Mariah Houghton performs Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love.” Though it would have been more effective without the incessant rhythm, it nevertheless follows in the footsteps of the Staple Singers, whose June 1963 “Blowin’ in the Wind” may have been the first-ever gospelization of a Dylan song.
Jesus at the Center demonstrates that Israel & New Breed are not resting on their laurels but are getting better all the time.