Israel Houghton “The Road to DeMaskus” Album Review

Israel Houghton

Prime Cuts:  Secrets, Reckless Love, I'm with You/Be Still

Overall Grade: 3/5

For the last year or so, the name of Israel Houghton appeared in the headlines of tabloids more than any new musical products.  The faux pax of his publicly announced divorce from his wife of over 20 years and his whirlwind romance and marriage to wifey #2 certainly was gruelling.  Whether or not enough time, repentance and healing have passed for Houghton to offer a new worship record is certainly is a question Houghton's church and accountability partners have to answer.  Our task is more humble; we are here to simply put  this new album under the microscope.  

On first listen, the sound and the thematic focus of "The Road to DeMaskus" are more introspective and pensive.  Nevertheless, whatever expansiveness  Houghton sacrifices, he makes up for intimacy.  Of all his recent releases, this new album showcases more of a tenderer side of Houghton.  This is demonstrated by the album's lead single "Reckless Love." Written and formerly recorded by Bethel's Cory Asbury, "Reckless Love" is one of the most intimate pictorial depiction of the Father's love. The song brings to life the parable of Jesus, where the Father would leave the 99 sheep to search for the single lost one.  "Love Never Fails" continue on similar lyrical trajectory along a slightly torpid melody.  

The album's best songs are the two duets with Houghton's new wife, Adrienne. Equipped with a girlish soprano, Adrienne complements Israel's muscular booming voice well on the folkish ballad "I'm with You/Be Still."  And the best song has to be the new single "Secrets." Boasting an ear grabbing melody, "Secrets" is highly autobiographical as Houghton sings about breaking away from the lies he was living with.  This is perhaps the only song that signals some kind of remorse and repentance.  After the emotional and spiritual catastrophe that often accompanies a divorce, one is surprise that there are not more tunes of a more penitent nature.

Rather, the rest of the songs tend to camp upon God's love and faithfulness. Is this a reflection of the prevalent teaching across many churches that repentance has a minimalistic role in the Gospel? "Promise Keeper," for instance, celebrates God's faithfulness, but nothing is ever mention about his demand on his children to be "promise keepers" of our vows too.  "Free Indeed" only makes sense if we know what we are free from; again there's a lacuna not addressed in the song.  Melodically, they are passable with none of them standing out like some of Houghton's classics such as "Jesus at the Centre" or "Just Wanna Say" or "Sunday Kinda love." 

Though this record is entitled "The Road to DeMaskus," the masks of sin are not entirely removed.  And for a record that speaks of meeting Christ as the Apostle Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, the Jesus presented here is a caricature.

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