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Posted August 13, 2012
By DwayneLacy_NRT, Staff Reviewer

It has been said that contemporary Christian and Gospel music are two of the most divided genres of music. Kudos to the Dove Awards for being a conduit for change in this area. There are a few artists who have the heart and the music that crosses denominational, musical and racial barriers, including tobyMac, Kirk Franklin and Israel Houghton. 
Praise and worship naturally crosses barriers with artists such as Hillsong, Jesus Culture, and Israel and New Breed. Houghton and his group New Breed are a collective of worship leaders and musicians who have made music that can be sung in the churches across the whole world. This is something that they did not do for the sole purpose of marketing, but it is something that is basically a reflection of the diversity within the group. They are back with their first live album in five years, Jesus At The Center
The album just screams, "Classic!" from the beginning to the end. Recorded live at Lakewood Church in February 2012, Jesus At The Center is a two-disc album that has a DVD accompaniment. Does it get any better? 
Things get going with each member singing a line from the title song and ending with Israel singing and reading from Colossians 1:15-20. Get ready to jump and sing along with "Jesus The Same," accented by the horns of the Oasis Horns. New Breed member Jeremiah Woods co-leads with Israel and plays the acoustic guitar on "Rez Power," a praise anthem that really encourages people to be "all in" during times of praise and worship. I was at the recording and this song really had the church in a frenzy of sorts. The beginning of the chorus says it all, "Clap your hands / All ye people / and shout unto God / With a voice of triumph, Woah!"  
Aaron Lindsay and Israel are best friends and have been writing and producing music for Israel and New Breed since the first album, New Season. Their writing chemistry is obvious, but it is nice to hear them sing together. So Aaron adds some of his vocal chops and ad-libbing to the Go-Go-styled (look up "DC Go Go music") "No Turning Back." It's just so funky and will be very hard not to dance and praise right along with it. 
"Te Amo" has a Latin/techno feel, starting from the Spanish/English lyrics to the rapping of Christian rap pioneer, T Bone. Infectious, addicting, and even amazing are just a few words to describe this one. To top things off, Michael "Big Mike" Clemons, Javier Solis and Kevin Camp treat us to some crazy drum and timbale solos. Without sounding corny and cliché, "Te Amo" is just another song to show how much fun and joy one can get out of praising God. 
"I Call You Jesus" has some driving guitar work courtesy of Joel Camey and Jeremiah McConico with wonderful, vertical lyrics. It definitely has the tight vocals of New Breed melded with the feel of a driving Hillsong United worship song. Imagine yourself in a huge stadium or alone singing the vamp: "Nobody greater than You / Nobody stronger than You / No name is higher than the name of Jesus.
Keeping with the theme of worshipping the name of Jesus, Israel, Daniel Johnson, Onaje Jefferson and Charlin Moore (Wow!) each do their good singing on the "Worship Medley." It is so wonderful the way that Israel and New Breed can go the songs that are modern worship in style to the music that my mother and other traditional Gospel music lovers can enjoy. Title song "Jesus At The Center" is a soft ballad that is so meant for the congregation to join in and they are heard pretty well throughout.
Disc 2 is made up of more slowed down worship songs. "Speechless" and "Your Presence Is Heaven" are two beautiful songs that were previously heard on Echo, an album that features and was produced by Israel. "It's Not Over (When God Is In It)" serves to encourage those who feel that their lives are at a standstill. It features soothing strings and some crazy harmony by New Breed. Israel sings with great passion while Aaron Lindsay comes in on the tag and helps to drive it home. Aaron is such an underrated singer and I was amazed at his vocal range. "More and More" is a desperate cry and longing for more of God and it is very much a highlight on an already powerful album. 
The diversity continues with Michael Gungor playing the banjo and singing "You Have Me" with Israel. The song then transitions nicely into "You Hold My World," heard on Love God, Love People. A special moment on the album is when Israel's talented daughter, Moriah, sings a duet with her dad on the Bob Dylan classic, "To Make You Feel My Love." When the song builds to "Everybody needs love," you will want to throw up your cell phone (or imaginary lighter) and join in. For those who like stripped down versions of Israel and New Breed songs, check out the studio versions of "Jesus At The Center" and "Your Presence is Heaven," both produced by Mr. Ed Cash. 
Closing Thoughts:
The term classic has been used too loosely even by me at times, but Jesus at the Center is just that. Israel and New Breed gives us something for everyone. The band is on point; the singers' vocals are tight and impressive. The songs are diverse and very well written. There are songs that can be enjoyed at many different types of churches. Some may not like the fact that Israel included a few songs that he contributed to albums by other artists, but there is just something hearing New Breed's take on them. This will be money well spent and you will want to buy it for others to enjoy. 

Song to Download:
"Rez Power" (download from NRT now)

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