The Power of One

Title: The Power of One

Artist: Israel Houghton

Label: Integrity

Catalog No.: 88697 42584 2

Release Date: March 24, 2009

Israel Houghton’s new solo CD for Integrity, “The Power Of One,” transcends musical, cultural and industry boundaries.  Simply put, it is an artistic expression highlighting a bold worshiper who has further complicated-in a good and effective way-sacred/secular fluidity.  Stylistically, I hear Stevie Wonder, OutKast, Bob Marley, Sly Stone, Sting, Prince, James Taylor, ’80s soft rock, Sunday morning Hammond B-3, the Black preacher tunin’up, Phil Collins, Roger and Zapp, shout vamp, Joe Ligon, and young Israel Houghton Jr. singing praises (literally)-the future leader of New Breed.

How does Israel Bring all of these styles together?  What is the link that binds them?  How are all of these elements along with others associated with secular music practices synthesized into a cohesive representation of worship that resonates within and, more importantly, outside of the church walls?  The answer can be heard from the beginning to the end of this CD project.  That is, I hear the heart and mind of a worshiper who is skillful at bridging the gap between church and world for the sole purpose of enlarging the kingdom of Heaven through a unique diverse sound.

The Power Of One starts off with Israel Houghton Jr. introducing himself signifying not only the beginning of the CD, but also the future passing of the worship torch from father to son.  It is a scriptural move, as he is being trained up in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6). After his voice is heard, an intro referencing Stevie Wonder’s “Living For the City” proceeds into “Everywhere I Go,” which is a remake that was originally recorded on Joel Olsteen’s “Free To Worship” project in 2007.  The arrangement of this rendition is much more elaborate than Olsteen’s version.  It is reharmonized, both vocally and instrumentally, and the groove is rhythmically funkier and more coherent than its predecessor.  Speaking of funky-there is nothing in the current gospel music industry that illustrates this notion more than “Saved by Grace.” After a few minutes into this track, funk and church merge forging a gritty, hard core, “chUchin’!” exhibition of exuberant praise! The infectious guitar riffs, the bass and drum rhythmic drive, the Prince motif in the synthesizer part, the tight triadic harmony and punchy unison background vocal lines, Houghton’s command of traditional and contemporary Black gospel lead vocals–complete with appropriate runs and “the squall”-and the hard quartet style vamp on the “One” with the organ sustaining the tonic in the upper range all serve up a lecture/demonstration of kingdom artistic execution at the optimal level.

Out of thirteen tracks, there are only two ballads on this project, “Moving Forward” and “Every Prayer.”  “Moving Forward” presents lyrical content about a worshiper’s resolve to follow Christ Jesus, as He has made all things new.  It is a declarative statement not only lyrically, but also musically, as the instruments and vocals become radical-more rhythmic movement and the incorporation of higher registers-signifying intensity and progression into a future of redemption. Israel was clever not to leave the worshiper hanging as a result of an abrupt ending.  He allowed the organ to taper off the song creating a few more seconds to either gather one’s self or continue into the next praise and worship experience-“I Receive,” a medium tempo ballad expressing one’s acceptance of God’s love.  “I Receive” is framed in a style that harkens back to Phil Collins’ 1981 hit, “In the Air Tonight.”  While the drum part in “I Receive” is different from Collins’ tune, the tonality of the drum and warm keyboard harmonic pad reflects the mood of the 80’s song.  Nevertheless, the lyrics and Houghton’s vocals in “I Receive” are potent enough to move the listener into the zone of worship.  The most precious moment in this song, if you believe in inheritance, is when Israel Houghton Jr. is heard at the ending singing-in tune-“Where would I be if not for Your grace.”  Of course, after this the praise begins with “Saved By Grace,” which is discussed above.

“Every Prayer, featuring Mary Mary, is a very powerful ballad that presents a narrative of deep belief in God’s close proximity to us and His ability to hear and resolve all of our spiritual and social issues.  The vocal execution in this song presents Houghton and Mary Mary’s ability to be simplistic, patient, highly expressive, melodic and confident-all of the things required for timeless music.

There is something on this CD project for a diverse and eclectic listening audience.  For those who like Sly Stone, “U R Loved” is for you.  If you are into reggae, “Surely Goodness” will have you praisin’ wit yo hands up!  If you wanna rock hard check out “You Found Me.”  The title track, “The Power of One,” is an appropriate socio-political statement, which challenges individual believers to take responsibility for  “making a difference” in the resolution of collective world issues such as disease and poverty.  This track represents a central theme and goal that permeates the entire project-to move beyond traditional church, socio-cultural and musical parameters in order to assert a message of deliverance, healing and power for all through One.  If my perception of such theme and goal is correct, Israel Houghton’s The Power of One has successfully accomplished the task at hand.  Put succinctly, you will love it.

Here is some exclusive behind the scenes footage from the mastering session for Israel Houghton’s The Power Of One, courtesy of Integrity Music:

Posted by Tyron Cooper

Get Onboard

Title: Get Onboard
Artist: Eric Bibb
Label: Telarc
Catalog No.: CD-83675
Release date: March 11, 2008

Although he is frequently classified as a blues singer/songwriter, Eric Bibb draws most heavily from the music of black churches on his latest release, Get Onboard. Whereas only one of its songs is cast in a standard twelve-bar blues form, the album is permeated by the sounds of gospel and of spirituals. Many of the songs’ lyrics are of religious or spiritual themes, although the music on Get Onboard ranges in character from the boldly defiant to the quirky and humorous.

To my ears, Get Onboard seems uneven; a certain flatness or lack of energy characterizes several of its songs, making them unable to sustain repeated hearings. This flatness is most apparent on the album’s heavier tracksespecially its opener, “Spirit I Am.” Replete with several backing vocalists, this song aspires to convey the impression of a congregation en masse as it repeatedly intones the phrase, “I live for the Spirit I am.” But the voices blend a little too smoothly for my taste; greater distinction among the backing vocalists would have been more powerful. Additionally, Bibb’s delivery of the song’s verses is not sufficiently emotional.

Bibb shines more on songs depicting humility and supplication, as well as on the album’s more humorous numbers. “If Our Hearts Ain’t In It” (which features Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar) describes feelings of religious ambivalence: one can go through the motions of religion“Go to church seven days a week / Read the Bible three hours a day”without actually experiencing any religious fervor of one’s own“If our hearts ain’t in it / Ain’t nothing much is gonna change.” Bibb’s voice sounds weak and wavering in this song, fitting the mood of its lyrics; the wandering quality of the harmonies also helps the ambivalence.

“Conversation,” a duet with Ruthie Foster, is cute. The only twelve-bar blues song on the album, it offers a humorous musical setting of a conversation between a couple who don’t spend enough time together:

You’re workin’ all the time
What about you an’ me?
Your’re workin’ all the time
Honey, what about you an’ me?
Aw, baby, baby, baby,
I just miss your company.

The somewhat jaunty and unpredictable musical accompaniment lends a touch of irony to the ostensible love duet.

Despite its occasional winners, Get Onboard suffers greatly from the aforementioned lack of zeal, and I cannot give it my fullest recommendation. I would, nevertheless, like to note how well produced the album is; many of its songs feature large instrumental ensembles, but their sound is never homogenized and the individual instruments can be heard distinctly.

Posted by John Reef

Promotional video showing the making of Get Onboard, courtesy of Telarc: