Israel Houghton and New Breed “Playlist: The Very Best of Israel Houghton and New Breed” Album Review

Israel Houghton

Israel Houghton and New Breed are a rare breed these days.  Never one to reside snugly within a specific genre or role, Israel Houghton and New Breed have never allowed stereotypical divides to domesticate them.  Sonically, they were one of the few worship leaders to incorporate energetic blends of Afro-pop, R&B, funk, pop and urban into their patented worship sound.  And Houghton himself is never one who is just interested in building his own portfolio of hit records.  Rather, imbued with a kingdom mentality of trying to help other artists extend their borders of influence, Houghton has had lend a hand in producing and writing records for Darlene Zschech, Karen Clark-Shead, Michael Gungor and Marvin Sapp among many others.  Also, never handcuffed to just providing music within the church walls, Houghton was also heavily involved in last year's "I'm in Love with a Church Girl" movie soundtrack.  This may explain why Houghton and his team have been one of the most awarded artists in Christian music; out of his vault of accolades include 2 Gold Albums, 6 Dove Awards, 2 Stellar Awards and 3 Grammy wins.

Such a cross-pollination mentality of reaching beyond his comfort zone was birthed in Houghton way before he became the worship pastor of Lakewood Church.  Born within a family circle of a white mother and a black dad, Houghton was raised in a Latino neighborhood and a spirited church. Thus, since his youth, Houghton has had been demolishing racial and denominational biases.  As a result, Houghton's music as exemplified by this retrospective collection can never be tagged with genre or stylistic labels.  "Playlist: The Very Best of Israel Houghton and New Breed" is part of Sony Music's "Playlist" titles, where the imprint has garnered some of the best songs from genre defining artists such as Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, and Gloria Estefan among others.  In similar vein, "Playlist" brings together 13 of Houghton's singles and more popular worship staples in one disc.  Nevertheless, those who are familiar with Houghton's catalog may ask:  "Weren't we served in 2012 with "Decades" a hefty "greatest hit" collection of Houghton that boasts a hefty 27 songs across 2 CDs?  Do we need another "best of" collection in matter of less than a couple of years?"

Frankly, the answer is a reserving no if you own all of Houghton's albums. And if you are looking to sample Houghton's songs, "Decade" is honestly the better option.  Nevertheless, "Playlist" does deviate from "Decade" in two ways.  First, "Playlist" is spearheaded by four songs taken from Houghton's most recent "Jesus at the Center" (which were not included in the earlier compilation).  Album openers "Jesus the Same" and "No Turning Back" (featuring Aaron Lindsey) get the ball rolling into Houghton's patented high-charged stadium anthemic worship.  While Michael Gungor joins Houghton on the Spanish flavored "You Have Me/You Hold My World."  Of note is the flamenco-sounding guitar riffs which are a pure delight to the ears.  Songwriters, on the other hand, could take a compositional cue from Houghton as "Jesus at the Center" is one of Houghton's finest work of art.  Pay attention especially to how Houghton takes a seed thought (such as the need to make Jesus central) and how he deftly applies this truth across various contexts throughout the song.  

Second, "Playlist" leans heavier to Houghton's latter releases.  There is only one song from Houghton's Integrity debut "New Season" and conspicuously missing are his earlier favorites such as "Friend of God" and "Alpha and Omega."  Instead, we get two songs from 2010's "Love God, Love People" and three tracks from 2009's "The Power of One."  Amongst his more recent tracks, one has credit to Houghton and his team for taking some of the grand truths of Scripture and paint them in ways that are memorable and mantra-like such as "Love God, Love People."  And on tracks such as "Surprise" and "Mercies" it is refreshing to hear how other Gospel greats (such as Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin respectively) come alongside Houghton exalting Jesus together.  "Playlist" may not be the most creative compilation but one cannot eradicate the Godly power that oozes out of these worship paeans.  Houghton is indeed an international treasure; and in the hands of our Savior, this collection shows how his ministry is without borders.    



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