Album Review - Israel Houghton - The Power of One
His name is Iz.
For a decade, that name has been liked to perhaps the most powerhouse brand in Christian/Gospel music: Israel and New Breed. Two Grammy's, multiple Dove and Stellar awards, multiple Gold albums - there's hardly a church in America, it seems, that some New Breed music has not been played in.
But guess what? Israel is out on his own. The Power of One marks not only his first non-Christmas studio album in seven years, but his first solo record, without the branding of New Breed behind him.
Not to say Iz doesn't have help. Longtime collaborator and music director Aaron Lindsey co-wrote five of the cuts on the record, and performs on it as well. Grammy-winning songwriter Tommy Simms makes some notable appearances, as well as Chevelle Franklyn and Erica and Tina Campbell from Mary, Mary, among others.
One thing that Israel does well - that seems to be a long-lost art - is mastering an album to flow and take the listener on an journey. When I was a kid, you had to listen to the albums of the Seventies as a whole to really understand them. That gave way to the single-happy Eighties, and our current iTunes generation of artists seem to often just slap songs on a record in any old order.
Not Israel. Maybe it's the worship leader in him, but The Power of One takes us on a musical journey, from getting your blood pumping and head bopping, to feeling a real anointing or worship. This is a scripture-heavy album, with many of the lyrics taking inspiration from some well known Psalms and verses.
You won't find many congregation-ready songs on this record. The multiple textures, vocal layers and complex arrangements will not be easily transitioned to the Sunday morning worship stage. I can certainly hear some of these songs as choir pieces, but congregations will have a hard time with the vocal acrobatics. This is a record that is meant to be listened to. Preferably with the top down, windows open, and stereo blasting so everyone can hear it.
My favorite tune on the record remains the early-released single "Just Wanna Say." If this song doesn't win a Grammy, I'll eat my shorts. OK, maybe not, but it should win. If it's possible to wear out an mp3, I think I've done it. But like a great baseball team, the "power" of this record lies in the heart of the lineup - tracks two through five. From the opening chords of "Everywhere That I Go," you know this album is going to be something special. That song transitions perfectly into "Just Wanna Say," which takes your energy level to the next level. But then, just when you think you have it all figured out, Iz slams on the breaks, and takes you into the reggae-flavored "Surely Goodness," which is infectious with its groove and familiar lyrics.
"The Power of One(Change the World)" sets the tone for the entire record by asking a question that at once gets you thinking and brings a little discomfort - "What if it all depended on me to change the world / What if my only responsibility was to change the world ... It all begins with one / The Power of One."
There's something for everyone on this record. You want some traditional Gospel music? Try "Every Prayer" with the aforementioned Mary, Mary. Looking for something a little more rocked out? Jump on "You Found Me" with dcTalk alum TobyMac. You want to know just how good Sir Iz is as a singer? Cue up "Moving Forward."
Prediction: The Power of One is going to be one of "those" albums - like Third Day's Offerings or DC*B's A Collision or newsboys' Adoration - a record that you simply must have. This record might just define contemporary Gospel music for years to come. At the very least, it will define Israel Houghton as one of the premier multi-cultural, multi-genre artists in music today.