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Alive in South Africa

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Oct
Alive in South Africa
Sounds like … praise-and-worship that crosses many stylistic boundaries, spanning gospel, funk, rock, pop, R&B, and world music.At a glance … bigger, meaner, and more ambitious than ever, Israel & New Breed once again take the limits off what constitutes a live worship album.Track Listing

Disc 1

Intro Alive Overture Alive Favor of the Lord Favor of the Lord (Reprise) Turn It Around Not Forgotten Not Forgotten (Reprise) Not Forgotten (Slow Version)/He Knows My name Take the Limits Off No Limits (Enlarge My Territory) Tudor Bismarck (Speaking) It's Raining Surely

Disc 2

Intro Still Standing I Will African Skies (Instrumental) You've Been a Friend To Worship You I Live (Away) Worship Medley Alpha and Omega Intro by Jonathan Butler Come and Let Us Sing (feat. Jonathan Butler) New Season Your Latter Will Be Greater You Are Good Again I Say Rejoice Friend of God He Knows My Name (Studio Version) Not Forgotten (Studio Version)

The runaway gospel album of 2004 didn't come from Fred Hammond, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Tonéx, or other established heavyweights. It actually came from relative newcomer Israel & New Breed, whose revolutionary breakthrough recording, Live from Another Level, catapulted the ensemble to top-player status in gospel and Christian music. The album went gold, earned a Grammy nomination, won multiple Stellar and Dove awards, snagged a Soul Train award, and transformed frontman Israel Houghton and music director Aaron Lindsey into highly sought-after producers.

Another Level took the best elements of the group's eclectic yet sorely underrated debut, New Season, and mixed them up with the '70s R&B cool of their studio follow-up Real. That, plus horns, lots of horns. The result was a polyrhythmic, nearly unclassifiable praise-and-worship tour de force that dared to go where no other live gospel project had gone before, melding a flavorful palette of styles into one cohesive whole.

So the bar had been raised high for the double-disc set Alive in South Africa. Recorded in Cape Town, South Africa, this colorful live offering builds on the strengths of its predecessor, in many ways utilizing the same formula. Generous amounts of high-octane grooves are accentuated by glorious brass adornments reminiscent of Earth, Wind & Fire in its heyday. An unpredictable, on-point rhythm section goes on and off beat at will, all the while being complemented by the classic keyboard layers Lindsey is known for. And the New Breed singers could probably recite the phonebook and still sound terrific.

But unlike Another Level, each disc feels like a separate church service, rather than one homogenous whole. Disc One kicks off with a trio of energetic, ultra-melodic originals. "Alive" is a funkafied party-starter and perhaps the most infectious album opener the group has ever recorded. "Favor of the Lord" adopts a more familiar gospel flair, but with a clearly vintage R&B stamp. The quirky, reggae-flavored "Not Forgotten" serves as the midpoint, and her the disc turns to a more reverent tone. At the same time, it's also where Disc One loses some of the tightness that dominated the first half, as numerous reprises, moments of improvisation, and even a sermon take precedence over original material.

The stronger, more focused Disc Two is where Israel & New Breed truly get a chance to don their Sunday best. It's also more vertical and worshipful than Disc One, the majority of which focused around God's goodness and blessings. After a couple of rock-funk praise romps ("Still Standing," "I Will") and a sweet musical interlude ("African Skies"), Houghton leads the congregation into a string of stirring, epic corporate ballads. "You've Been a Friend," "To Worship You I Live," and "Worship Medley" all are rousing, hair-raising anthems of devotion to God. But it isn't until the simple "Alpha and Omega"—a four-line, hymn-like composition the band learned in Zimbabwe—that Alive reaches its climax. Suffice it to say, it's one of those songs that must be heard to be believed.

But the album ain't over yet. After a joyful, celebratory selection led by South African jazz musician Jonathan Butler, Israel & Co. treat the audience to an encore of the group's greatest hits. It's here that we see the real reason why Alive in South Africa seems to be missing something. It's certainly not a lack of skill, musicianship, or vocal ability. As a whole, what Alive doesn't have is strong enough "new classics." While quite good and melodic, very few songs reach the immediacy and appeal of such New Breed staples as "Friend of God," "You Are Good," or "Again I Say Rejoice." The band has gotten better ever since those songs were first recorded, and here these tunes sound huge, eclipsing the overall effect of the new material that preceded them.

Nonetheless, the album is still an excellent display of diversity and multicultural praise and worship, and it's undoubtedly one of the freshest live recordings of the year. Meaner, bigger, and more ambitious than ever, Israel & New Breed have once again proved their brand of worship isn't black, white, or of any color. Theirs is simply a representation of what's to come in heaven, when God's worship won't be compartmentalized by the color of one's skin.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.