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Album Review

From 1989 to 1998 dc Talk ruled the contemporary Christian music roost. During that time the pioneering hip-hop/rock trio pumped out five albums that sold a massive 8 million units. Though the group went on indefinite hiatus in 2000 (and a reunion still looks unlikely), rapper/singer tobyMac barely missed a beat. His three subsequent solo releases have moved another 2 million units.

Perhaps that's because tobyMac's hybrid style—which the 45-year-old singer describes as a "big pot of gumbo … what I call hip-rock, funk and soul"—bears more than a little resemblance to his former band's.

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The Black Eyed Peas-style title track addresses the reality that faith ebbs and flows but acknowledges that God's power enables us to start over ("Being driven by a source overflowin' our souls tonight/ … It changes everything"). Likewise, the possibility of a second chance after a fall is the theme of "Get Back Up." "Captured" tenderly expresses a sense of abandoning oneself to God's loving care ("I will rest at Your feet/And I'll only lift my voice/When You want me to sing/It's the beauty of Your covering that's stealing my heart"). "Changed Forever" offers a rockin' testimony of God's transforming power ("Just a glimpse of Your face/And my whole world changed"). "Break Open the Sky" longs for Jesus' return ("We wanna see Your face/So tear the roof off this place/Jesus, break open the sky/ … Come, Jesus, come").

The playful "Funky Jesus Music" celebrates diverse expressions of worship, recognizes the importance of prayer and winks lyrically at dc Talk's biggest hit ("Give me that funky Jesus music/ … Look at them freaks/ … Passion won't subside"). Prayer is also the focus of "City on Our Knees." And "Showstopper" practically explodes with hope ("Hope just broke right through the door/ … We're 'bout to light the night with that flare").

Changing up the tone a bit and evoking historic Keith Green sentiments, "Hey Devil" tells the tempter where to go ("Hey devil, go on/get your junk out of here"). But this track also accurately alludes to his power to ensnare unsuspecting victims ("You're a beauty and a beast/You're the pressure never cease/And they say you never sleep").

"Start Somewhere" models humility as a man takes initiative and responsibility for resolving conflict with his wife ("If I could turn my words around/You wouldn't hear a sound/But here I am, and there you are/The space between us is not so far/I'm reaching out my hand in love/Before the fading sun/Forgive me for what I've done").

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Summary Advisory

I'm not sure I've ever sampled a sonic stew with as many different ingredients as tobyMac's Tonight. You want rock. It's here. Rap? Yup. R&B? There's a bit o' that. Reggae? Check. And it's all liberally flavored with the salt of the gospel. On paper, it doesn't look like a recipe that would work very well. But tobyMac has spent almost two decades perfecting his musical morsels. And what he serves up here is satisfying sonic—as well as spiritual—nourishment.

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tobyMac's fourth solo effort debuted at No. 6 on Billboard's album chart with first-week sales of 79,000.

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February 9, 2010

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Adam R. Holz

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