Israel Houghton: The Power of One
Sounds like … a mishmash of sensibilities spanning Motown, gospel, funk, modern worship, pop, rock, reggae, and various fusions thereof.
At a glance …The Power of One is the most freeform thing Israel Houghton has ever worked on, while expanding even further his calling to every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Nobody knows this, but Israel Houghton is going solo—maybe not officially, but certainly logistically. Until further notice, Houghton has chosen to break rank with his famed Israel & New Breed brand and present himself as sole proprietor of what he likes to call "kingdom music." He has even named his seventh Integrity album The Power of One.
Of course, that first paragraph is merely my silly conspiracy theory about one of my favorite artists. My obsession began with 2001's New Season, a disc that didn't just introduce a new, cross-cultural voice to the contemporary worship sphere, but also blew open the door for races and generations of different stripes to worship together.
From there on out, Israel & New Breed were unstoppable. Whether live or in the studio, the ensemble proved itself one of the most eclectic and accomplished aggregates in all of faith-based music, garnering in the process two Grammys, a boatload of Dove and Stellar awards, two gold-certified records, and acclaim across the board.
With such a solid rap sheet under the group's belt, it's anyone's guess why The Power of One is so unlike anything Houghton has done before. For the first time ever, he appears to be veering from his calling to serve the church with new songs to sing. Instead, Israel appears to be going for a ministry platform looking at how social justice and worship intersect.
That explains why The Power of One is more message-driven than it is corporate. Save for exceptions like the infectious opener "Everywhere That I Go" and the rousing ballad "Moving Forward," very little on the album is about rallying congregants to worship.
In the context of a repertoire that includes classics like "Friend of God" and "You Are Good," that's a bit of a letdown. But there's also the flipside: He's been so busy in the last decade churning out songs, collaborating with others, or leading worship at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, The Power of One serves as a nice reprieve for him to try his hand at something else.
In that regard, it's a treat to hear him kick back and let loose in the beach-ready "Surely Goodness," a rock-steady romp based on the closing verse of the 23rd Psalm. Another curveball is first single "Just Wanna Say," an energetic rocker that also fuses reggae and pop for a number unlike anything else on today's Christian airwaves.
There's a nod or two to Houghton's gospel exploits ("Every Prayer," "Saved by Grace"), but they're outnumbered by the genre-bending material, like the slightly punkish "You Found Me," a collaboration with tobyMac that could very well be considered the first rock song from the New Breed frontman. Equally surprising is the cooler than cool "Sing Redemption's Song," a Sting-meets-John Mayer piece featuring Martin Smith of Delirious.
Taken as a whole, these songs do a marvelous job of expanding even further Houghton's desire to reach across the aisle and appeal to peoples of every tribe, nation, and tongue. Matter of fact, The Power of One is more successful at capturing that vision than the one involving social justice—other than the soulful title track, you'd be hard-pressed to find references to reaching out to the least of these.
But most eclectic listeners won't mind. When music and musicianship are this worshipful, virtuoso, and varied, it's easy to get caught up, kick back, and join the praise. Israel has done it again.
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