Israel Houghton has been on the scene for some time and made his first large splash with his critically-acclaimed New Season project on Integrity in 2001. Producer, songwriter, vocalist and more, he is one of Gospel's most exciting artists (see interview).

 CD Accompanied by his New Breed vocal crew and a cold band of musicians, Israel brings an eclectic, raw, praise and worship experience, characterized by his inherent grasp of cross-cultural expression and his melodic genius.

Real, his sophomore album on Integrity Gospel, expands the boundaries of Israel by moving into studio territory, guided by the very steady hand of Tommy Sims of The Positive Movement. And is if that wasn't enough, there's a supporting cast of guest background vocalists that includes Chris Willis, Tiffany Palmer, Jerard and Jovaun Woods and —wait for it— The Andrae Crouch Singers.

The project starts off with "Better", beginning with hints of gentle symphony before turning sharply into a funk-driven, string-guided, brass-punched praise that says "Your loving kindness is better than life". Chock full of changes and melodic passages, structurally "Better" leans heavily on the solid musical foundation and vocal structure of The Commodores and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Powerful grooves push home the message of praise encouragment on "Get Up", written jointly with Israel by Latin music maestro Paul Garcia and award-winning songwriter Tim Johnson. Producer Sims pulls no punches here, ensuring that his patented soulful
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organic vibe carries the day. Houghton is stretched here vocally and does a nice job of adding some excitement on this mid-tempo; he masters tempo territory that can cause lesser vocalists to be lazy.

"Bout It, Bout It" and the title track "Real" are 'get down' millennial groove festivals (with just a hint of 70's retro) that will draw the ear of students of Tonéx's school of Nureau.

Israel also digs into a tasty rework of "Nothing Else Matters", a song familiar from Marvin Sapp's solo project of the same name from 1999. Jonathan DuBose Jr. on guitar, Dan Needham's drumwork and sustained live brass mark this cut.

"Taste and See" has a distinctive Crouch feel, with Israel admitting as much in the song's intro. Essentially a beat-driven chorus that is made golden by those Andrae Crouch Singers, the song has longevity written all over it.

Real ends with gorgeous balladry, three tracks strong. "Magnificent and Holy" is New Breed showcasing the beauty of softly-rendered but strong vocals laid over organ and piano. The song blends into the guitar-kissed "Don't Want to Leave This Holy Place" with Israel on solo vocals and written jointly with his wife, Meleasa Houghton. The piece builds to hands-raised heights.

When the tender "I Still Love You" (with its echoes of God's caress offered to us all), concludes this album masterpiece, it is a fitting finale and the first step to playing the album all over again.

Check out some of the album's prominent players by clicking here.

Producers: Tommy Sims, Israel Houghton
album release date: October 29, 2002
Integrity Gospel

— reviewed by Stan North

  All content in GospelFlava copyright 2002. No information to be reprinted or re-broadcast from this site without the expressed written consent of GospelFlava.com. All rights reserved.

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