To hear the name “TobyMac” is as familiar to me as breathing. Jesus Freak was, is, and always will be standard that music is judged against. Say what you will. “It’s dated!” “It’s Christain rock!” “It’s….Jesus Freak! This is 2015!” No matter. That record shaped the foundation that my love for music firmly stands on. TobyMac was only part of the trio alongside Michael Tait and Kevin Max, but while looking at reviewing an artist’s entire solo discography, he simply seemed like the obvious choice to start with. He hasn’t put out any EPs along the way (like Kevin Max), or started a full new band that couldn’t simply be considered solo (like Michael Tait). Heck, those small items aside; he didn’t become the front man for freakin’ Audio Adrenaline or Newsboys like his former bandmates did!
Let’s get down to it. Toby’s discography ranked six to one.
TobyMac – Portable Sounds
February 20th, 2007
I was made to love you
I was made to find you
I was made just for you
Made to adore you
I was made to love
And be loved by you.
You were here before me
You were waiting on me
And you said you’d keep me
Never would you leave me
I was made to love
And be loved by you.
These lyrics may not be groundbreaking, but they start off Portable Sounds (yes, skipping over the ska/reggae pop of the opening track One Love for a moment) on a strong note. Made To Love, the record’s first single, showcases a CCM-friendly beat that is intriguing with its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink setup. Slight record scratches and xylophones; it’s all here! Too many effects in the kitchen doesn’t harm it, most likely because the masterful Cary Barlowe (of Luna Halo – don’ t you know who’s writing this review?) was involved in its writing. It’s relatable to mothers, 21-year-old college students (like I was at the time of this record’s release), and the 29-year-old I am today.
What must be understood if you’ve never heard these records (save for Eye On It and Tonight, already reviewed) is that Toby likes to be a jack-of-all-trades. These are not records that stick to one format. It’s all mixed up it a pot and ladled out, some tracks simply getting heavier servings of one or the other. Especially with Portable Sounds, these tracks come in pairs, which are easy to pick out. Party rock? Boomin’ and Ignition. Pop-rock? I’m For You and Suddenly. Island and Reggae influence? One Love and No Ordinary Love. Tug-at-your-heartstrings melodic pop? Face Of The Earth and All In. We’ll stop there, and I’ll make some comments on my favorites – though everything I’ve mentioned so far is quality. Some may not like this variation, but dc Talk was all about variety, so it makes perfect sense for Toby to continue this tradition, with no reason to stop now on record number four!
Boomin’ is tons of fun, if you can get past lines like I got a hand full of dreams and a heart full of God (just do it for your own good). It’s a funky joint that that brings out a hardcore-ish breakdown near the end that easily gets the crowd shouting along – Portable sounds to lift us up! Portable sounds to lift us higher! The pop-rock serving of this stew comes in with I’m For You and Suddenly, and it’s impossible for me not to throw heavy praise in their direction, especially with the former. I’m a complete sucker for those verses with that guitar lick and record scratch; something that I feel like twenty-fifteen would call not just dated, but very dated (this reviewer disagrees). It all builds up with some orchestral accompaniment (surely played by a simple keyboard) that rounds out the space very nicely. Face Of The Earth may have my favorite chorus on the whole record, and it gets double-points from me for breaking away from a simple CCM-relatable topic, and speaking about a long-lost friend. No Ordinary Love is worlds better than its counterpart One Love, which I already mentioned briefly. It’s funky and has a great little bass groove.
(Side note: Whenever I listen to No Ordinary Love‘s chorus, and Toby delivers the lines This ain’t no ordinary…..gonna tell everyone up under the sun, I can’t help but hear Jimmy Ray’s nineteen-ninety-eight smash Are You Jimmy Ray? It’s just the way the beat lines up. Instead of Gonna tell everyone up under the sun, I just keep hearing Who wants to know? / Who wants to know?. Anybody?!)
The record concludes with the easy upbeat pop of Feelin’ So Fly, a quick reggae No Signal interlude (not overly necessary), and the gospel of Lose My Soul, which starts the record off lyrically as Made To Love did: wholeheartedly about Jesus.
The complaints are small here, and the quality is high. It’s has more pop on it that its predecessors, which may sway you one way or the other depending on your taste. As for me? My disposition is towards rock, but that’s not a hard line that I take with Toby. There’s more than enough quality tunes, and more variety and lyrical maturity, to edge out Momentum and Welcome To Diverse City to bring it in as the runner-up in the discography of TobyMac.
If you had to listen to two tracks: I’m For You / Face Of The Earth