Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Israel & New Breed – Jesus At The Center [Music Review]


Artist: Israel & New Breed
Album: Jesus At The Center (Live)
Street Date: August 14, 2012
Label: Integrity Music/Columbia
Genre: Christian/Gospel
iPod Pick: Te Amo Feat. T-Bone


Israel Houghton and the New Breed team have come a long way, walking a long road together and apart with various album releases, Grammy wins and national performances which are noteworthy. When I first heard a few months back that Israel will be releasing new music with New Breed, what really caught my attention was the bold title ‘Jesus At The Center’ and somehow I knew this one was going to be different. Normally I don’t have a knack for the music of Israel Houghton as somehow he could be monotonous in sound and style. If you were like me, ‘Jesus At The Center’ is a must get as it is fresh musically and is really unlike anything I have heard from the Israel and the New Breed together. I would like to reemphasize this, ‘Jesus Be the Center’ is a must get! No matter what worship music you are more accustomed to, be it Hillsong, Elevation Worship, Myron Butler & Levi or Hezekiah Walker and The LFC, this is a must get.

Highlights of this two disc album include the ‘Make You Feel My Love/Name of Love’ Medley on which Israel sings with daughter Mariah Houghton a cover of the Robert DylanMake You Feel My Love’ (made popular by Adele). ‘Rez Power’ is also a great praise tune with a rocky edge. It’s a beautiful tune that leans more to the Hillsong-esqued sound. ‘Te Amo’ (meaning ‘I Love You’ in Spanish) which features rapper T-Bone has a retro-creative dance hall twist to it. ‘Overflow’ is a ten minute plus of worship, blessings and declarations. The intro of ‘I Call You Jesus’ might remind you of a Switchfoot song or any heavy rock tune at best but it flows into the declarative style that the band is known for. ‘It’s Not Over (When God is in it)’ is another beautiful hopeful tune worth the get and continuous listen. ‘Your Presence is Heaven’ which is a personal favourite would sure be on repeat in your car for church rides. The amazing and exceptional Michael Gungor appears on the ‘You Have Me/You Hold My World’ medley, it’s a really different track musically, and even from the intro you would know this. And lastly, a highlight you wouldn’t want to miss off this album is a rendition of the beautifully penned (by Israel Houghton and Sidney Mohede) Hossanna (Be Lifted Higher).

One thing sure of Israel’s latest record, there’s a focus and Jesus is placed at the center not just on the album title. This is a powered-up soul lifting album that would spin on our machines for a very long time. And I kind of see another Grammy on the horizon come next February

[Review Originally Penned  For and Featured Courtesy of TheGospelGuru.com]

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Damita - Anticipation [Music Review]




Artist: Damita
Album: Anticipation
Label: Tyscot Records
iPod Pick: Won’t Turn Back

Damita is back! And this time she didn’t make us wait long as we did between her debut and sophomore project which was a seven year wait. If you aren’t familiar with the music of Damita, she’s got bold, powered up, ‘independent lady’, kind of style in the likes of Shontelle, Keisha Cole, Tamia, and Beyonce. What I love best about her music is the audacious form with which she sings her lyrics, you have no choice but to turn and find out who’s the lady with pipes behind the mics.

Damita’s new one ‘Anticipation’‘s got determination and making it happen against all odds written all over it. The songs are beaty and anthemic declaring powerful truths and powerful ways God has intervened throughout history. Also, Damita does something new by taking all the way to church on the ‘Choir styled’ ‘Amazing God’ and she does it so well delivering a song that I’m sure would soon be heard sung in the four walls of churches worldwide. ‘Be Revealed’ sounds like something we’ve heard before but gives us a fresh feel of that sweet Latino beat we accustomed to from Damita and her husband Deitrick Haddon.  ‘Don’t Walk Away’ which is obviously a song about a relationship gone awry has that swag ‘hands on hip’ attitude to it, I’m sure the ladies know what I mean.

The intro ambient feel on ‘Anticipation (Waiting 4 U)’ is powerful, I think that’s worth best describe it for such a song with a soft feel but heavy impact. It would soon be a favourite for late nights on your sound/dock station after first listen. On this very song we hear Damita give that ‘free to the wind’ vocals only artists like Aretha Franklin, Crystal Lewis, Jennifer Hudson, and sometimes Brandy bring to the table. It’s a great song. Just for the intro, ‘TTLO (Turn The Lights On)’ is worth the mention.

The sound on ‘I Love You’ would pierce your heart combined with its opening lyrics ‘ Oh God, I choose to worship/ When I feel good and when I’m in pain. And it continues in a steady beat which accentuates and still fall back to base. Somewhere in the middle you would here a dance-hall loop which you would probably hear only in songs crafted by people like David Guetta. It’s creative and beautiful in its entirety. 

I first thought ‘Super She’ro’ was cheesy on seeing the title but on listening, It’s a nice, feel good song you would sure move to on first listen.

I think Damita has finally found a niche musically, this is evident on this new album which is her third album and we don’t see  the wide experimenting of different ‘genres’ as we saw on her (especially) first album and second (‘No Looking Back’). 

No just for fans, ‘Anticipation’ is worth the get. It’s what we’ve been anticipating for the past 4 years. Go Dami! :)

P.S. - By the way, whoever designed the album art, we could have used more colors, portraying better the ‘feel’ of the whole record. :)

[Review Originally Penned  For and Featured Courtesy of TheGospelGuru.com]

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Voice Bible by Ecclesia Bible Society [Book Review]



So I finally got a copy of the buzzed and most talked about latest bible translation (The Voice) and can’t wait to share my experience using it with you in this review.

I have a big thing for Bible translations and paraphrases, honestly I do. And it’s not really an obsession of sorts; it’s just the beauty and advantage they bring along in making the bible relevant with today’s culture. How the context is amplified and how there so much rich enlightenment and practicality by just reading a modern translation. Texts that made no meaning in the old somehow just pops out and become a life verse or a wisdom nugget in the new. This has been seen in popular versions such as ‘The New Living Translation’, ‘The Message’ (by Eugene Peterson) and ‘The New Century Version’

So the BIG question is (which I also asked as I opened up ‘The Voice’ for the first time) ‘What does ‘The Voice’ (uniquely) has to offer?’ or better said ‘Why should I choose ‘The Voice’ over other versions in the market?’ 

The first thing that caught me off guard as I opened ‘The Voice’ was the ‘Shakespearean’ format in which it was written (obviously not language or grammar wise. Lol). It’s written like a play, where the person speaking is highlighted before the statement, and this is so creative and beautiful. I can’t wait for a couple of friends to get it too so we can read the bible out loud together choosing different characters in a particular passage. One word; Coolness!  Another great feature I noticed was the addition of context, i.e. a verse is actually written in such a way that supplementary information which is contextual but not scriptural is included to help readers who are unfamiliar with the story or with the ancient world understand the text better. For example let’s say Matthew 2:22 (where the bible talks about King Herod’s son), it reads like this in ‘The Voice

Soon he learned that Archealaus, Herod’s oldest and notoriously brutal son, was ruling Judea. Archelaus might not be any friendlier than Herod had been. Joseph was simply afraid. He had another dream, and in this dream, he was warned away from Judea; so Joseph decided to settle up north in a district called Galilee.

We see in this verse how the italicized lines aren’t really a part of the verse in the other translations but help give context to the verse.

Something else which makes the voice unique are inbuilt commentaries written by yours truly modern people such as artists like Matt Wertz, Tara Leigh Cobble, Jill Phillips, Charlie Hall, Kendall Payne, Sara Groves and also writers such as the much loved Donald Miller ( 'Blue Like Jazz') , Lauren Winner ('Girl Meets God') , Matthew Paul Turner  ('What You Didn't Learn from Your Parents About Christianity') and Kerry Shook ( Senior Pastor 'Woodlands Church' Texas). 

With a few days already (digging) into this version, I must say it is packed and there is so much more (including several charts (also genealogy charts) to give a quick and larger context  to a biblical passage, Added information to set the scene for dialogue, Longer commentaries, study charts and lots more).  

I believe ‘The Voice’ is a great study resource and also a bible to take for group meetings. It is rich and had the modern, hip reader in mind who has spent a major part of his life reading and watching stories set in set in scenes and dialogue while being translated and also the reader who wants more and has a thirst for what God has been trying to say through his word. 

Looking for the bible to come alive in 3D with rich colors like a cinema screen before you? ‘The Voice’ is your best bet.

* Please note, ‘The Voice’ is a modern language dynamic equivalent translation.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy - Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy [Music Review]


Artist: Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy
Album: Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy
Label: Tyscot Records
iPod Pick: Better Days

Okay here’s the deal, the first thing that caught my attention on first listen to Anthony Brown & Group therAPy’s self-titled debut was Anthony’s voice. Wait, it’s not the typical Deitrick Haddon or Chris Brown type but it’s got this crispy, husky and soothing feel, (think Bebe mixed with a bit of Donnie but more organic and raw). I absolutely loved it even as he opened up the Jazz styled first track (Group Therapy). He effortlessly sails through personal sounding lyrics that discuss satisfaction and where it can only be found. Even in this song, his voice soars from the low to the high again and again. ‘I Will Be’ utilizes the church clap style a lot of gospel tunes are accustomed to but the vocals remain sharp throughout. The song lyrically talks about being all God’s called one to be. ‘Better Days’ which opens up with Anthony’s great voice in an animated way and also with hopeful lyrics (Open your eyes. Today’s a brand new day and those tears you cried are all in yesterday) would sure get you off your seat on getting to its chorus. You can’t be still with this one.

For me ‘Water’ gets a five star, not that it brings anything new musically to the table but there’s a strange worshipful moment on that song no one would want to miss. The track overflows into ‘Overflow’ which might almost be mistaken if left alone as a chant by one of those very big voiced choirs. Simply said; innovative. ‘Harvest Song’ musically is a free bird. On hearing it, I’m like ‘why didn’t this start off the album?’ The choir modulation which was also utilized on ‘Better Days’ makes ‘Your Way’ shine. ‘Beyond Beyond’ showcases beautiful vocals from different members of the group and kinds of soar with different melodies.

Listening to Anthony Brown & therAPy for me was an adventure though I knew there was something more to this group even as I listened to the songs. Some songs had a leg out of the boundaries already explored by gospel music and some had both legs in. It feels like Anthony Brown and his friends have loads of creativity and stories to tell in their hands but hold back all in the name of a genre. The stories behind some of the songs are personal but fall back into clich├ęd lyrics we’ve probably heard before. I hopefully wait for their sophomore release, this is one musical group that has the potential of walking the red carpets of the Grammys to receive an award very soon, only if they allow God tell and paint at the same time the unique voice he wants the world to hear through them.

P.S – All the same this is still a great work any lover of classical gospel would love and those who embrace the contemporary scene too. Good efforts Anthony Brown & Group therAPy.

* [Review Originally Penned For and Featured Courtesy of TheGospelGuru.com]

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bob Goff - Love Does [Book Review]

Whimsy! That’s the word best describes everything about Bob Goff’s new book titled ‘Love Does’. To get straight to the point, if you are looking for that ‘ten step’ book or a heavy dose of spiritual theology, you might just skip this book, but Bob serves up short chapters of irresistibly real stories rounding them up with a spiritual context in each chapter. The interesting part is though the stories and ending truths might seem misplaced sometimes, they don’t come forced. Bob Goff is a lawyer and doesn’t try a bit to sound like a theologian.

One of the stories that connected with me in a very deep way was ‘The Interviews’. I smiled deeply and my eyes misted as I read how Bob’s children wrote letters (in the aftermath of the 9-11 incident) offering an invitation to all presidents, princes and leaders in the world, how a lot said ‘No’ and how a lot also said ‘Yes’, how they handed over as a parting gift a copy of their home key to each world leader they met with. Bob ends this chapter with a notion that rings true about how unity doesn’t necessarily mean uniformity ‘I want to live in a new normal where I can reach out to people who are different from me and just be friends’.

One thing that kept me leaving each chapter amazed as I read ‘Love Does’ was the simple ordinary approach Bob uses to land very deep and resounding truths and lines. Some lines made me drop the book and think and at times go for a long walk, some made me pick up the phone and dial a number that had expired my long call history list and some made me race into the nearest store to buy a gift to wrap up for someone before we met next.

Though some chapters seem over stretched and some lessons seem like misplaced jigsaw puzzle pieces for the stories before (which at times were a bit too abstract and not too grounded), and I honestly say this cause I want to read Bob’s next book and I want it to be better ( I hope he is reading this. Lol). ‘Love Does’ is a great book worth the read. It’s the amazing story of God through the eyes and life of a lawyer.

P.S. – All of the proceeds from the book are being donated to Restore International’s Leadership Academy in Gulu, Uganda (www.restoreinternational.org) and the Mentoring Project (www.thementoringproject.org).  These two organizations are committed to loving kids intangible ways and moving the needle in their lives. They’re worth getting involved in.

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