Forefront Records / Capitol CMG
Release Date: September 17th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Promised Land
TobyMac needs no introduction. No, he really doesn’t. We’ve been giving Toby coverage on the website for quite some time now, and it’s been an unspoken understanding that his music is perhaps one of a few that has lasted the test of time all these years. In fact, dare I say that TobyMac, along with fellow artists like Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, DC Talk, Steven Curtis Chapman, Carman, Rich Mullins, Newsboys, Delirious? and Audio Adrenaline, are quite possibly some of the artists who had major success in the 1990s that have continued to stay relevant and relatable in this ever-changing culture- maybe even more so now than back then? Sure, artists’s popularity change with the decades- artists like Rich Mullins and Carman have since left us to be with God all too soon, and their music aren’t as familiar with people now compared to back when each of these artists released material; but what still remains are the songs of these bands and artists- their message, impact, and influence, in this time now, is very much necessary as it was 5 years ago, 10 years ago, even 20. In his mid 50s, Toby is still energetic and enjoys making music, and its clearly evident by the various music videos and albums he has created since the start of his solo album career way back in the early 2000s. While die-hard fans of DC Talk (yes, the band that Toby was in back in the day) have lamented the loss of a passionate and innovative band; what has transpired from the indefinite hiatus of the group, is a career that is fast becoming one of the most respected and admired in recent CCM history. With career topping radio singles spawning from his illustrious and dynamic career thus far- from songs like “Made to Love”, “City on our Knees”, “Lose My Soul”, “Tonight”, “Get Back Up” and “Me Without You”, to “Irene”, “Gone”, “Atmosphere”, “Burn For You” and “Speak Life” to name a few; it was and quite possibly still will remain, his 2015 studio album This is Not a Test that has become one of the most musically diverse and universally praised albums of his career thus far.
Spawning hits from that album, like ‘Til the Day I Die’, ‘Love Broke Thru’, ‘Move (Keep Walkin’)’, ‘Feel It’, ‘Backseat Driver’ and ‘Love Feels Like’ (featuring the reunion of DC Talk); Toby’s steady flow of albums continued to be his best asset- following on from This is Not a Test in 2015, was a live album Hits Deep that was released in 2016- a review of that CD/DVD can be seen here. The Elements closely followed in 2018 (with songs like the title track, ‘I Just Need U’, ‘Everything’, ‘See the Light’, ‘Scars (Come With Livin’)’ and ‘Hello Future’), but what Toby has experienced lately that has caught media attention and has garnered a lot of press, happened at the end of 2019, when Toby’s family lost his first-born son TRU-Dog, and he passed away. While it’s no surprise that Toby continues to wear his heart (and faith) on his sleeve, his firm belief in Christ came to a test during that time period- just like how Steven Curtis Chapman had to wrestle with questions during 2008 when his daughter Maria died, so too did Toby wrestle with what he had to go through in late 2019. Now in 2021, and a few songs later (’21 Years’ released in early 2020 and was inspired by his son’s death and him processing that, ‘I’m Sorry (a lament)’ was a song in response to all the civil unrest and social issues brought to the fore in light of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, ‘Help is On the Way (Maybe Midnight)’ released early 2021), Toby is once again back with another single- ‘Promised Land’.
As real and authentic as they come, ‘Promised Land’ is a tear-jearker, let me tell you. Sung from the perspective of a persona who’s working just to make ends meet, we see this question being asked, of when’s someone’s promised land, and if it’s coming now, this side of heaven, or the next. The song was actually inspired by Toby’s grandfather, a former Wyoming County miner who passed away of Black Lung disease, and how the song was phrased, depicts a scenario where the persona (maybe even from the perspective of Toby’s grandfather himself) longs for a promised land to be realised for himself, wanting things to change, but also realising that maybe the promised land won’t be in the here and now. A song that allows us all to have empathy for those who work twice as hard as us (and maybe receive twice as little in return), we are called to help those less fortune, and this song can hopefully allow our eyes to see far beyond just our own little bubble, to see and understand that our lives ought not to be as comfortable as we make them out to be- our grandparents had a harder life than us, and so our gratitude and appreciation ought to reflect such a sacrifice they put in, so that we can reap the benefits of the work. It is because of the impact and meaning this song ‘Promised Land’ has had on Toby himself, that he shot the music video of the song in Toby’s grandfather’s hometown of Glen Rogers, as well as the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. The song itself makes a parallel between the promised land in Exodus, when God made the Israelites wait for quite some time (I believe it’s about 400 or so years). We then see Toby sing either about himself or about his grandfather, asking the question of where the promised land is- for himself, for his family and friends who have been toiling and working really hard, even asking the question for us all, who have been in some sort of mundane autopilot pre-COVID-19, and now we need to re-evaluate and re-align; which I hope this song allows us to do.
Toby’s new song is one of hope and poignancy, and one that can maybe call us into action, too. As we as people living in this COVID-19 world need to ask ourselves where our promised land is, hopefully Toby can bring us into a space where we can be ok with asking the hard question of where our promised land lies, and who it lies in, and if we don’t know where, then why not, and maybe we should just start going on that journey, sooner than later. A song that can hopefully tie us over until the next album release (whenever that occurs), Toby in his own right, is one of CCM’s most accomplished and heartfelt, and an icon not just within the confines of CCM, but in the wider, broader music community at large as well. An artist who is almost certain to continue to make music well into his 60s (if his energy and enthusiasm is still going, then why not?), Toby’s enthusiasm in his songs, is what sets him apart from a lot of his contemporaries. Rarely do you see someone in his 50s, in any music genre, have as much joy and charisma as Toby has right now. Well done Toby, for ‘Promised Land’, can’t wait for an album release…whenever that may come? Or is it another single release, in the next few months ahead?
RIYL: Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, Kevin Max, DC Talk, Aaron Cole, Hollyn, Ryan Stevenson