Release Date: February 26th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Sanctuary / Alpha & Omega / Total Praise
- Free Indeed (You Said I Am)
- Glorious Day / Free Indeed
- Coritos Medley
- How Great Medley
- Promise Keeper (feat Victory Boyd)
- Your Presence Is Heaven
- Nothing Else
- Don’t Wanna Leave / Breathe Into Me
- Feels Like Home
- To Worship You I Live
- Hymn Of Breakthrough
- Breakthrough (Reprise) / The Blessing
New Breed celebrated our 20th year together in 2020. And although the entire landscape changed with how we do concerts and touring, we knew it was still important to come together. I’m grateful for the sacrifices made by everyone on our team to carefully gather and participate in this offering. Truth be told, it’s one of the most rewarding worship experiences I’ve ever been a part of. Gospel/r&b/worship artist Israel Houghton, famous for hit songs like “Friend Of God”, “Your Presence IS Heaven”, “You Are Good” and “Jesus At The Center”; is one of the most inspiring, encouraging and inspirational worship artists I’ve heard within the last few years. His previous album Road To DeMaskUs, is an album where he was probably the most vulnerable… and this project really cemented me as a fan of his music and albums as a whole. If you want to read my review of the release, you can do so here; but let me tell you that Israel is now back with another new release- his worship project Feels Like Home Vol. 1. Recorded live from Israel’s sister-in-law’s home in New York (with each vocalist and musician undergoing COVID-19 tests and quarantining as well prior to the worship recording), Israel’s latest project was born out of Houghton’s idea in early 2020 to remotely stream worship services, the impetus behind what would become his “Worship Wednesdays,” after seeing an opportunity to explore and reinvent group worship dynamics online throughout the pandemic (according to Jesus Freak Hideout). Though the album is still lengthy in terms of album duration according to casual fans (though worship enthusiasts will reckon that this release isn’t long enough!); Feels Like Home Vol. 1 is full of heart, passion for Jesus as well as an air of honesty, raw emotion and vulnerability. Sure, its not as compelling as worship albums from Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, Kari Jobe, Meredith Andrews or Passion; but Israel and co. really do a good job- and I find myself gravitated to many tracks here, as I worship alongside Israel, praising the living God.
Opening the vibrant and eclectic track list is the hard-hitting medley of “Sanctuary”, “Alpha & Omega” and “Total Praise”. It’s an earnest and vulnerable mostly acapella piece, that sets the tone for the album, and essentially is worship at its most vulnerable and personal. And as Israel and he other many vocalists he employs usher us into moving communion with Jesus, l can’t help but be inspired and impacted, as I intensely press into the Holy Spirit’s presence, wanting to be closer to Jesus. Israel has recorded a fantastic opener, and this near-flawless track translates in brilliance across the remainder 13 songs. “Echo” a personal highlight and gospel-infused worship song- and cover of Elevation Worship’s mega-hit with Tauren Wells, firmly asserts the truth that ‘…when my mind says I’m not good enough, God, You’re enough for me, I’ve decided I’m not giving up, You won’t give up on me, You won’t give up on me…’; while “Free Indeed (You Said I Am)” is exactly that- a gospel song set to the lyrical theme of “Who You Say I Am”, as Israel relays to us the gospel and the ever true fact that whoever the Son sets free, is free indeed. The spontaneous free worship like “Glorious Day / Free Indeed” is next and has Israel singing a portion of the hit Passion song blended with his own song- and this ‘song’ reminds us that worshipping Jesus with no preconceived ideas of how that looks like and should look like… is extremely fun.
With Israel then singing out the story of the types of songs he sung when he was little (Spanish hymns called coritos), there is an 8 minute crash course in the types of tracks that formed the backdrop of Israel’s own personal musical history; the next track “How Great” (which lasts for 15 minutes) is another free flowing melody sung partly in Spanish… about how great Jesus is- which incorporates the cover of Covenant Worship’s song of the same name. “Promise Keeper” is next, and is mind-blowingly out of this world in a crazy good way- Israel sings together in perfect harmony with newcomer Victory Boyd, to create an anthem for the ages that outlines how Jesus is a promise keeper, and ‘…You will never fail, Your love is true…You deliver on Your word and I will trust You…’, a concept that we all should be able to declare with confidence now and/or in the near future as we walk through the Christian life.
After an all-too-quick interlude of the still spine-tingling and compelling “Your Presence Is Heaven” (why is this song only a minute and a half?); Israel and his friends then transition into the brilliantly played and recorded “Nothing Else”, a heart-warming and emotive cover of Cody Carnes’ song (which you can read about on Jon’s review of the track here!)- with Israel relaying to us this eloquent and much needed monologue: I was thinking about the fact that many of us haven’t been inside a church building for 7-8 months… How powerful this song is, like Cody wrote this song, and he just kinda nailed it for me, like the idea that we kinda go to church sometimes and hold God hostage, like the futility of that blows my mind. It always kinda has, but not having the luxury anymore of just going and going ‘lets see if the worship team can move me today, lets see if they sing my jam, cause if they sing my jam, God, I’m gonna hook you up with a praise!’; I know how dumb that sounds, but subconsciously we tend to do that. If they’re doing a song we don’t like or we don’t know, we kinda end up like drinking our coffee and crossing our arms and scrolling on Instagram during worship… I’m thinking about when the world re-opens, like fully re-opens, the reset that has happened in our hearts that says ‘God, I’m so sorry forever like making you compete with the very blessing that I asked for and You gave me… like God I can’t really do that, I can’t really cross the street and speak to that person, I can’t really give to this particular cause because you know I got these other things I gotta handle, you know that boat you blessed me with, I need to take it out next Sunday’. So when I sing thse words, its such a song of repentance, scaling it back to what matters…; I personally reckon this track is THE SONG to hear from this album! “Don’t Wanna Leave / Breathe Into Me”, a heart-warming and reflective medley, that is a mesh of a couple of Israel’s previous hits, as he brings us into personal worship with the Lord Most High; and the slower paced emotional keys led ballad “Feels Like Home” is next, thematically similar to the parable of the lost son, in that Jesus will always be our home, no matter how far we run away from Him and how unworthy we think we are. As Israel majestically conveys to us that ‘…You never run away, though I have run before, from You I can’t escape, my heart is tied to Yours, and like the prodigal, You look beyond my faults, You take me by my hand, back to Your heart again…’, this song is a standout, as we remember that even with our masks on, we can run back home to the Father; leading us to take stock at the person in the mirror, as we figure out how to act in front of others and whether we are ready to shed our facades for good.
“To Worship You I Live”, a powerful free-worship type song previously recorded by Israel on his greatest hits album a while back, passionately and fervently declares that ‘…I live to worship You, even when my voice is gone, God, yeah, to worship You, I live…’; while “Hymn Of Breakthrough”, the official first single from Feels Like Home Vol. 1, isn’t that creative lyrically, but does have heart and soul and passion, as Israel passionately relays to our Father that ‘…everything that I need, You supply every promise of Heaven is mine, I am healed, I am free, God has spoken, I agree, my breakthrough is here…’. The album then ends with an explosive and moving medley of “Breakthrough” with the mega hit “The Blessing” recorded previously by Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes
One could think that after Israel’s marriage unfolding in 2015, as well as his termination from the staff at Lakewood Church (headed by Joel Osteen), that he could’ve called it quits and retired from music altogether. However that isn’t the case- and the result is the exquisite, brilliantly recorded Road To DeMaskUs. While Cory Asbury should be proud that his song “Reckless Love” is circulating the globe at a quick and frenetic pace; Israel Houghton should also be proud, of doing this song justice on the 2018 album, and subsequently creating an album worthy of multiple listens on iTunes- reminding us all that it doesn’t matter the genre of an artist, as long as they are praising God and drawing people into His presence. Israel’s first album in 3 years reminded me why Israel is such a respected icon in the worship music industry, and I feel that the latest album Feels Like Home Vol. 1 confirms this statement as well. Releasing the project on his newly launched District 11 music label (yet another new label which continues on his new chapter); Israel can be proud of his efforts, and I can’t wait to hear what God has in store for this coming year for Israel. Well done Israel, you have recorded this exemplary project to perfection!
3 songs to listen to: Echo, Nothing Else, Hymn of Breakthrough
RIYL: Kirk Franklin, Tasha Cobbs-Leonard, Mary Mary, TobyMac, Michael W. Smith, Kierra Sheard, Donnie McClurkin, Natalie Grant