Israel Houghton - A Deeper Level (2007)

Israel Houghton
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Israel & New Breed want to make listening to their music a cross cultural experience. That was an easy thing to accomplish with the last CD, which was recorded live in South Africa. But Christ is also worshiped in divergent ways in places like Grace Church in Humble, Tex., which is where the group's latest work, A Deeper Level, was recorded. The state of Texas is a melting pot, so there were probably multiple worship traditions Israel Houghton and his ensemble could draw upon. The cross-cultural references are there, but they are perhaps more subtle on A Deeper Level than on the previous CD, Alive in South Africa.

Israel & New Breed want to make listening to their music a cross cultural experience. That was an easy thing to accomplish with the last CD, which was recorded live in South Africa. But Christ is also worshiped in divergent ways in places like Grace Church in Humble, Tex., which is where the group's latest work, A Deeper Level, was recorded. The state of Texas is a melting pot, so there were probably multiple worship traditions Israel Houghton and his ensemble could draw upon. The cross-cultural references are there, but they are perhaps more subtle on A Deeper Level than on the previous CD, Alive in South Africa.

Israel and New Breed draw upon the rich choral tradition found in the African-American tradition on songs like "If Not For Your Grace." And on tunes such as "Surely Surely," the group also fuses genres associated with secular music like hip hop and funk. Further diversifying the album are cuts like "Say So" and "With Long Life," which draw their inspiration from the Caribbean and from Africa. "Say So" begins with a bass and percussion driven melody rooted in Afro-Caribbean music, but then the chorus makes a transition to a hard charging, guitar driven feel associated with Contemporary Christian music. "With Long Life" starts with keyboards providing the background to Houghton's vocal solo before the song morphs into a reggae beat by the time the choir sings the first verse. When the group reaches the second verse, the song actually adopts a more recent musical style that hails from the Caribbean - dancehall. That's what I mean by subtle. Israel and New Breed's ease at switching between genres clearly comes from Houghton's ability to draw a diverse cast of singers and musicians to his ensemble.

Alive in South Africa had an energy that made the CD perfect for praise teams and youth choirs. A Deeper Level also includes numbers tailor-made for the young folks, and it's clear that Houghton's ministry is directed toward the youth. Houghton's love for young people and his concern about the dangers they face in today's culture come through in the songs, as well as what he says once the music stops.

Those testimonies and comments made between songs are always inspirational, but they're also risky. For one thing, they slow the pace of the recording because the talking - or preaching - turns a five minute song into a seven or eight minute song. And there's always the risk that broaching topics such as sexual identity could rub some listeners the wrong way. However, that's clearly a risk Israel & New Breed is willing to take, and I believe the people who buy A Deeper Level will feel the message and the music.

By Howard Dukes

 
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