Album Review: Israel & New Breed, “Jesus at the Center”

ALBUM TITLE: Jesus at the Centre
ARTIST: Israel & New Breed
BEST TRACK/S: Jesus at the Centre, It’s Not Over (When God Is In It), Your Presence is Heaven, Jesus the Same, No Turning Back, Rez Power, More Than Enough

From the very first listen, one easily gets the feeling that “Jesus at the Centre,” the first release from gospel worship act Israel Houghton and New Breed in five years, is no ordinary project. From the worshipful opening strains of The Intro, in which Houghton and a few members of New Breed sing, “From my heart to the heavens, Jesus be the center, it’s all about You,” then read the Colossians 1:25-20, to the closing lines of More and More, where the congregation sings, We want You more and more, this release is clearly about one thing and one thing only: the complete, total, and unequivocal worship of Jesus Christ.

Houghton and New Breed have always been excellent at producing praise and worship music that raises the roof in glorification of God, and on the double-CD Jesus at the Centre, they take their praise to a whole new level. Song-wise, this may be Houghton & New Breed’s best-written work to date. Take, for instance, Jesus the Same. The song starts off with horns and synths, which is why when Houghton launches straight into the chorus right away and the music cuts off, such that it’s just the congregation that claps and sings in unison, it’s just an unexpected, breathtaking moment. Jesus the Same is indicative of what the project seeks to showcase: total worship. Faithful powerful wonderful Jesus is beautiful, merciful, supernatural, highly mighty, worth, gracious, patient generous… you get the idea.

Jesus at the Centre is chock-full of tremendous praise songs. The unusually titled Rez Power – short for resurrection power, natch – is topnotch, as is the funk-alicious Aaron Lindsey-led No Turning Back, with its bass line that will not quit. The group turns up the Latin flavor with Te Amo, featuring Christian rapper T-Bone, then ups the ante even more with More Than Enough featuring Onaje Jefferson and Krystle Harper. Houghton & New Breed’s vocal firepower is virtually unequaled in modern gospel music, and with the quality of these six songs in a row, well, Houghton and crew don’t blow the roof off the stadium, they blast it off like an explosive fireball.

After the power of these songs, well, the worshipful ballads that follow are like a balm to the spirit and soothing to the soul. Of these, the highlights are clearly the title track, Your Presence is Heaven, and More and More, which re-opens the spirit to the natural inclination to worship. The three medleys that follow More and More are beautifully made. I particularly appreciate the medley of To Make You Feel My Love, written by Bob Dylan, and Name of Love, penned by Houghton, Aaron Lindsey, and Tommy Sims, which is particularly inspired.

The beauty of the lyrics of these songs is scriptural yet accessible, which makes for a quality worship experience. I Call You Jesus, for example, contains Healer, Mender, Master, Savior, Lover, Giver, Name above all names, Ruler, Redeemer, Risen Conqueror, Jesus,, in the verse alone! The chorus of Your Presence is Heaven reads, Treasure of my heart and of my soul, in my weakness, You are merciful, Redeemer of my past and present wrongs, holder of my future days to come.

The highlight of the entire album, however, is the Lindsey-led It’s Not Over (When God is In It). I confess that I was not in a good place emotionally speaking when I listened to this album, and most of the songs uplifted my soul. When I got to It’s Not Over (When God is In It), and the razor-sharp harmonies of New Breed repeated So look to the sky, Help is on the way, our God is faithful, He’s faithful to save, heading into When God is in it, there’s no limit, When God is in it, it’s not over, It’s not over ’til God says so, so I’ll count it all joy, You make all things new…, well, I broke down in tears so badly that I had to pull my car over to compose myself. It’s been a while since I heard a song that spoke so clearly to me with the voice of God, and for this alone, I will always be grateful for this album.

Israel Houghton & New Breed kept us waiting for five years, but the wait was well worth it. With 21 songs on this album, almost two hours worth of music, and a DVD that captures the energy and passion of the men and women of Israel & New Breed, Jesus at the Centre is a topnotch worship album that is arguably the best of the group’s long and storied career. Musically, lyrically, vocally, production-wise, Jesus at the Centre is probably the closest to a worship experience in Heaven as I’ve ever experienced to date.

Picture credits here, here, and here.
Disclosure: A review copy of the 2-CD and the DVD was provided for review by House of Praise.

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