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No. 1 was for fun. No. 2 mixed music and message. No. 3 goes deep.

That’s how tobyMac sees his work as he releases “Portable Sounds,” his third solo disc since his last outing with dc talk.

The hip-hop/rock artist also known as Toby McKeehan said “Momentum” was full of “throw- your-hands-up hip-hop.” His second album, “Diverse City,” offered “a party atmosphere,” while adding some depth. Both landed McKeehan Grammy nominations.

“I’m just going down the same road with this record,” McKeehan said. “It’s a little deeper. There are moments when I’m making a serious cry from the heart, but I’m also offering people a chance to get their groove on a little bit.”

Today’s praisePortable Sounds” hit the stores Tuesday. By then, its first single, “Made to Love,” had already debuted atop the Christian radio charts and hit No. 2, behind Beyonce, on the overall singles sales charts.

“I loved recording ‘Made to Love,’” McKeehan said. “It has a lot of things I love. It has a rootsy feel. It grooves nice, but has a nice little funk guitar part of it and it’s a passionate lyric.”

The track proclaims that the purpose of life is to focus on God: “I was made to adore you, made just for you.”

The disc’s title comes from “Boomin,’” which pounds out a message about diversity amid a heavy dose of funk. It includes a lyrical nod to iPods and MP3 players, saying, “I’ve got portable sounds to lift me up, portable sounds to take me higher.” McKeehan thinks the gadgets and the music they hold can be a blessing.

“If God breathes something through me that could encourage somebody or something they could relate to and grow from, it’s amazing to me that they can take these with them through life,” he said. “In the midst of whatever’s coming at them, they can be sort of transported to another place through these portable sounds, or encouraged in the midst of their storm.”

There’s plenty more that’s worth a listen. In the upbeat “One World,” McKeehan encourages diversity and discourages hate. “Ignition” offers heavier rock as he describes the need to jump-start the heart. Energetic guitar riffs punctuate “Suddenly,” which describes turning to God amid trouble. The brassy “No Ordinary Love” gets the head bobbin’ as it happily describes divine love.

Although previous tobyMac discs have been stylistically diverse, “Portable Sounds” offers even more variety.

“I’ve always been into sort of a melting pot of styles,” McKeehan said. “I look at it like a big ol’ pot of gumbo. You want everything in there. You want the sausage and the chicken and the okra. I’ve been a fan of diversity in my lifestyle as well as my music. The influences are hip-hop, first and foremost probably, rock, funk, reggae, all those. It ends up as a pop record with a nod to hip-hop.”

The disc wraps up with “Lose My Soul,” which includes vocals from gospel singer Kirk Franklin and Mandisa from the last edition of “American Idol.” It’s like a collection of self-portraits that explains how fame and other trappings can twist people if they don’t keep the right things in focus.

“It just jumps off the CD,” McKeehan said. “The message is inspiring, the track is inspiring. It’s probably my favorite moment on the record. It’s definitely the most dramatic moment.”

Overall, “Portable Sounds” is an excellent disc that keeps the energy level elevated as it explores some deep themes.

“It’s about pursing a life of faith in the midst of the chaos the world is throwing at us and all that comes with that. The macro theme is that,” McKeehan said. “The micro theme is the day-today-things that make up our lives,” he said.

On the Web: www.tobymac. com.

Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry.


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