TobyMac has successfully launched a musical career on his own as having been one of the driving forces behind his previous venture, dc Talk. For those who have followed McKeehan since his days with the famous three-piece, one thing has remained predictable of this artist - his ability to craft memorable songs that listeneres can truly connect with. His third full-length solo project, Portable Sounds, continues his string of catchy hip hop-driven pop tunes backed by an entourage of talented musicians and vocalists.
It's hard to forget TobyMac's historic past in the music world. As McKeehan has worked rigorously to pave a path for his solo career, it's interesting to see some of the progressions dc Talk made start to repeat in TobyMac's solo work. Don't get me wrong, Portable Sounds is undeniably, one hundred percent TobyMac (Max and Tait don't guest on the record this time around), but McKeehan pushes his own limits to expand his horizons and stretch his boundaries once again musically. Portable Sounds opens with the party-friendly "One World" in true TobyMac fashion, and continues on with the worshipful radio hit "Made To Love." Marrying the edginess and energy of previous standouts "Catchafire" and "The Slam," "Boomin'" is one of the most memorable tracks on the record, musically declaring a party while lyrically stating TobyMac's mission, "'Cause we're boomin' out the stereo system / This goes out to anyone listening... / Here to rep the Most High with this one." "I'm For You" is a pop/rock-driven statement of devotion to Christ, while "Face Of The Earth" is the album's first ballad, a melodic and intimate letter to a friend who McKeehan has lost touch with over the years.
TobyMac sets out for a more organic feel on his latest record, trying not to rely on synthetics quite as heavily as he has previously. The end result creates some more late-dc Talk vibes, specifically in "Face Of The Earth," "All In," and the pop-punk flavored "Suddenly" that harkens a bit back to "Since I Met You" on Supernatural. The song lyrically addresses a loved one who's gone through a divorce, and the hope that comes for life after the pains of broken love. McKeehan balances the more serious with the superbly fun or the more worshipful, bookending the track with a delightful and amusing return from his son Truett in "Hype Man," and the melodic rock, DC-esque anthem for surrendering to Christ, "All In" ("'Cause I'm letting go of everything I am / And I'm holding on to everything You are / I'm letting go of everything I once was / I'm all in / I'm fallin' into Your arms again"). McKeehan also kicks up the energy a few notches for the grooving "No Ordinary Love," the aggressive "Ignition," and "Feelin' So Fly," the latter of which carries a vibe that could pass as a nod to the likes of Bobby Brown ("My Prerogative" specifically comes to mind). A few interludes tacked on to the ends of a couple of the songs and a finale that features a second outing from Kirk Franklin (who first appeared on Momentum) and American Idol's Mandisa round out this thirteen-track release, adding up to what just might be McKeehan's most diverse album yet.
The more instrumental approach to songwriting and execution is a new direction for TobyMac's solo career and it proves to work nicely on Portable Sounds. Still mixing in the funk and electronic elements where seen fit keeps the album fun and catchy even when things turn to more serious topics. His unashamed approach to singing about his faith is always a breath of fresh air, as it always feels natural and not forced, since TobyMac's faith in Christ is such a big part of who he is. Portable Sounds is a great batch of songs with a little something for everyone, offering plenty you'll want to take with you in your car or iPod. It's always a treat to hear new things from this creative mind, so I get quite a bit of pleasure from stating: TobyMac is back, and let's hope it's to stay.- Review date: 2/17/07, written by John DiBiase
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