Prime Cuts: Fire's Burnin' (featuring Cory Asbury), Faithfully, Rest (featuring Terrian, Gabe Real)
Overall Grade: 4/5
It has been nearly 4 years since TobyMac graced us with a new album. Between 2018's "The Elements" and this current release, TobyMac lost his 21 year-old son. The opening words of the song "Life On It" provides a window into the singer-songwriter's soul as to how he managed his pain: "Everybody needs somebody/Don't try and fake folly/Anytime it cuts, we all bleed." His friends, as the song testifies, gave him the strength. This ounce of wisdom is also reflected on this record. With a long line of collaborators ranging from current boppers such as Tauren Wells and Sarah Reeves to rising Gospel powerhouse Wande to his former colleagues DC Talk to the genre-bending Sheryl Crow, TobyMac wants this record to be testimony of how his friends had helped him through his arduous journey.
Naturally, there are songs that speak to his loss. Most blatant being the single "21 Years." Despite the steel percussions, it's a challenge not to have your emotions stirred as TobyMac wrestles with the question of why his son died. Lines such as "I wanna wake up to your laugh at two/Catch ya when you steal my shoes/Say, "Good mornin', afternoon"/Talk ya through those "Alex blues" are heartbreaking. The soft tickling of the keyboard and Marlee's emotional nuances on "Everything About You" further give articulation to TobyMac's pain.
Yet not all is morose. Rather than resorting to pat answers, TobyMac profess faith in God's sovereign in the anthemic "The Goodness" (featuring Blessing Offor). Instead of pushing God away, the reverb-heavy "Deeper" finds TobyMac and Tauren Wells longing to go "deeper" spiritually with God. This theme continues with the jangling guitar and the 80s beat-driven "Fire's Burnin'" (featuring Cory Asbury); this is easily the catchiest song on the set.
Despite the presence of Sheryl Crow - yes, the gal that gave us the earworm "All I Wanna Do" --- she wasn't given the best song on the record. There isn't anything about "Promised Land" that makes Crow standout from the other collaborators. The same can be said about TobyMac's all-star collaboration with DC Talk, Kevin Max and Michael Tait "Space." Much better is Mark Knopfler-esque "Faithfully" and the acoustic bare-bones "Rest."
Though not perfect, the album does have many powerful moments. Most importantly, this is an honest set of songs. TobyMac does give us recycled answers to the problem of suffering. Rather, using the space of 15 songs, he works with us through these issues. Reflective of life, there are some downers as well as some sparks of joy and hope.