|Christmas is delightfully different here | Posted October 11, 2011
TobyMac is an artist who virtually needs no introduction. Having become one of the pioneers of Christian music, both in dc Talk and now his solo career, it's hard to name one thing he hasn't accomplished. Grammys, Dove Awards, AMAs, multi-platinum sales, four studio albums, several remix projects, a live DVD, books, movies, a record label... do I really need to continue?
Despite all his many and successful ventures however, there has been one project fans have been wanting for nearly a decade: a Christmas album.
One might wonder where he would even find the time to make a Christmas record (or breathe for that matter), but ever since the release of his two-song This Christmas EP back in 2001, longtime listeners of the talented musician could only wonder what a full length tobyMac Christmas album would sound like. In 2011, we finally got our answer.
Christmas In Diverse City isn’t your regular, run-of-the-mill holiday album. Then again, Toby isn't your usual run-of-the-mill artist either. He accredits a large amount of his success not only to God, but to those around him, namely his eight-piece Diverse City band, with whom he has been for nearly 10 years. It's their family-style partnership that makes this album a musical goodie bag of sorts. Not only does Toby have six songs of his own on the record, but for the first time, he has given the microphone to each member of the Diverse City band to record their own solo songs. The result is 50 fun-filled minutes of every sound under the sun.
The project starts of with “Christmas This Year,” a song Toby released to radio last season, becoming an instant hit with fans. The song captures all the wonderful memories incorporated with the season and highlights a vocal appearance by Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer. From there, we are led to “The First Noel,” a Christmas classic done with a TobyMac flair. The song features none other than acclaimed Christian and mainstream musician Owl City (a.k.a. Adam Young.) I love the vocal trade-off between these two, and it has quickly become my favorite rendition of the carol.
“Mary’s Boy Child” brings a spirited acoustic feel to this album, due namely to newest Gotee Recording artist Jamie Grace’s bubbly and fun guest vocals. A hip-hop inspired re-make of “O Come All Ye Faithful” leads nicely into “Little Drummer Boy,” the true show-stopper on this album. Layers beyond layers of synthesized drum =lines turn what is usually a mellow song into something far beyond the norm.
“This Christmas (Father Of The Fatherless),” the record that drove his Christmas EP nearly 10 years ago also has been re-recorded for this project. It features a guest spot by the lone female vocalist of Diverse City, Nirva Ready. This newer version is not only up-to-date with current musical stylings, but has also been changed lyrically. The song, talking about a child without a family during the holidays, now includes a new bridge about the child in this story being adopted by his foster family. This almost mirrors Toby’s personal life, as he and his wife adopted twins a few years after this song was originally recorded.
From here on, we are introduced to seven songs created and produced by the members of the Diverse City band, but don’t be fooled, in NO way does that mean this album about to slow down…
“Carol Of The Kings” by DJ Maj brings a soulful edge, taking the beloved “Carol Of The Bells” and transforming into a rapper’s playground of creativity. “Birth Of Love” by SuperHeRose (a band fronted by drummer Brian Haley), wins the award for the most unique of all the songs with it‘s semi-Broadway feel, while the piano driven and haunting “What Child Is This?” by Arch Nemisiz (Dave Wyatt and GabeReal) is sure to leave the listener in a pure moment of worship.
Diverse City guitarist Tim Rosenau dives into the pool next with the grungy “It Snowed,” the only real rock song on the record. It’s a fun song written from the perspective of a teenager at Christmas, ultimately happy to be surrounded by their family. “Angels We Have Heard On High” by Nirva Ready serves as the only real “classic” rendition of a timeless carol. It’s a nice breather after such a high energy album, and a great reminder of why we celebrate the season.
“Santa’acomin’baka’round!”--undoubtedly the best title on the project--by bassist ToddieFunk, offers a catchy and irresistible ‘70s groove, bringing to mind the sounds of Jackson 5. Finally, closing it out is “Christmas Time” by Byron “Mr. Talkbox” Chambers. This song brings the album full circle, coming back to where Toby started--sharing all of the fun and special memories we create during the season. It’s the familial feel of the song makes this a fantastic way to close the record.
We all knew when TobyMac would venture into the waters of a Christmas project, it wouldn’t be like anything else out there. Known for his trademark “musical gumbo,” Toby not only delivers melodically on this album, but on a lyrical level, too. Soft moments of worship are often followed up by danceable and rowdy beats, but somehow, in true TobyMac fashion, it works. The heart remains throughout each track.
For people who enjoy a classical warm and fuzzy Christmas record, this may not be your “must-have“ album of the holiday season, but for those who are looking to broaden their horizons, I guarantee you‘ve found your match. Christmas In Diverse City is the most creative Christmas record of 2011, and one that both Christian and mainstream music fans alike will find themselves enjoying around the Christmas tree this season. Believers will be moved, and hopefully, those who are searching for truth will find themselves asking questions about the true reason for the season.
When all is said and done, you can now officially add “brilliantly crafted Christmas project” to the list of accomplishments by TobyMac--and a brilliantly crafted Christmas project it is.
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