First of all, I never win anything.
So winning a Twitter contest was reward enough. As a Twitter aficionado, I rarely pay attention to tweets promising a new MacBook or iPhone (think #moonfruit or #squarespace if you’re familiar with Twitter) . But a contest with the prize of a first look at one of my musical heroes was a chance at a blessing too good to pass up. And when I received the news from Integrity Music that I would be receiving this DVD, it was music (bad pun intended) to my ears.
As a worship leader, I was very curious to see how this “Worship Leader Edition” would differ from previous releases. I have seen Israel’s work on the “Alive in South Africa” DVD so I was familiar with the power of his live concert, but “Power of One” is a studio album. So when I received the set I was impressed to find that it not only included a DVD of a live concert, but also a CD of the same material as the DVD, a CD of the studio album, and several bonus features including video tutorials from Israel himself demonstrating the progressions for several of the tracks on guitar. They certainly attempted to cover all the bases.
I listened to the CD first and immediately detected – this is not your standard big budget concert. From the opening spare piano riffs and grooving hand percussion of the first track “Everywhere That I Go”, the sound draws you in immediately to an intimate, welcoming atmosphere that has all the substance of Israel’s sound with no need for extras. To hear Israel without his backing group New Breed, and leading what sounds like a small group of intent worshippers, makes you realize that beyond all the fame and interest that follows Mr.Houghton, he is at heart a lover of the connection between worshipper /worship leader and God. The band naturally flows from an acoustically funky “Just Wanna Say” to the now anthemic chorus of “Moving Forward” while Israel seems altogether natural in his command of the environment. This is what he would be doing in any church, if there was no Lakewood, or New Breed, or lights, cameras, or action. He’d be in front of people, strumming and singing, worshipping and encouraging.
Watching the DVD brings the CD into focus, as you see the same environment visually in a classy, ‘unplugged’ stage. The acoustic set takes nothing away from the sound of the musicians, and those that are watching for ideas in the musical framework might be intimidated by the great skill of the performers in the longer instrumentals, like “Sing Redemption’s Song”. Worship leaders would do well to pay more attention to how Israel keeps the audience and atmosphere enlivened through contrast, call and response, and encouragement. While he is clearly at the center of the worship set, you never get the feeling that he’s aware of it.
The concert peaks for me around the reggae tinged “Surely Goodness”. Can you have fun and worship at the same time? From the response of the audience and the smiles of the band, the answer is a resounding yes. As tracks like “Power of One” and “Others” touch the conscience, “Saved by Grace” and “Surely Goodness” move the body.
On to the extras. As a non-guitarist, I picked up my son’s Toys R Us style First Act 3/4 size guitar and tried to follow along with Israel’s chord instructions. If I can play ‘tenths’ along with him, I suspect most guitarists would be able to follow him easily. One other great extra, besides the enhanced CD with printable chord charts, is the Song Stories on the DVD. Israel explains his mindset, so we can see where his inspiration and his ideas come from. Once again, he is approachable and accessible, making you feel like you could be right there alongside him as he writes powerful melodies.
In all, I think this “Worship Leader Edition” is most beneficial in showing that big budget, horn laden, super promoted concert atmosphere is not what makes Israel tick, though most that have followed his career already know this. It’s a reminder that a musician and lover of Christ can bring his art to a willing group and find just as much success leading them into a time of reflection and rejoicing, as a mega church leader would with all the trappings of a major conference. It’s not the number of musicians, or the size of the audience, it’s the sincerity in the heart of the worship leader that makes the difference.