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JFH Music Review

TobyMac, Christmas In Diverse City

Christmas In Diverse City

Artist Info: Discography
Album length: 13 tracks: 48 minutes, 3 seconds
Street Date: October 4, 2011

It's the most wonderful time of the year folks: Christmas time! It might only be October and the cool air is just now starting to breeze its way into our hemisphere but it's all setting up for Christmas. Joining in with the holiday spirit this year is legendary artist TobyMac and his friends in Diverse City. Along with Toby's stamp of approval, he sets very high expectations for listeners. Nevertheless, we are definitely given an inside look into the season with Christmas in Diverse City.

The album opens with last year's holiday single, "Christmas This Year." The music has a mildly traditional sound with modern additions but lacks a catchy enough chorus; at times it sounds so bouncy that it's difficult to accept. The saving grace of the song is Leigh Nash's vocals in the bridge. It almost creates a worshipful moment as she simply sings, "Holy Holy Holy. God is coming near. Unto us a savior's born on a midnight clear," thus transforming the track from being mediocre to incredible. Following is the untraditional rendition of "The First Noel" featuring the vocals of Owl City's Adam Young. As Toby and Young sing back and forth, it creates a great tension that resembles a sing-off. It's not what you would normally expect from a Christmas song but the interpretation of the classic is refreshing.

Giving "Mary's Boy Child" an urban acoustic twist, Toby features the vocals of new Gotee Records artist Jamie Grace. If the song didn't blatantly say the word "Christmas" in it you might not even think it was meant for the holidays. This can be a good and bad thing; it all depends on the person. For the Christmas music connoisseur, this can turn them off while the apprehensive celebrator might really enjoy this track. Two incredible renditions of classics are "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Little Drummer Boy." "O Come…" is given a treatment that the folks at Glee would be jealous of. The song is given such delicate treatment that it seems so respectful to the original while embracing a modern sound. "Little Drummer Boy" naturally yields itself to interpretation and TobyMac holds nothing back by providing tons of rhythmic pleasure that would make a drum-line blush.

For the second half of the album, we are given some of the Diverse City band's take on Christmas music. Sadly, none of them truly stand out. Arch Nemesiz's take on "What Child Is This" and Nirva Ready's "Angels We Have Heard On High" stick relatively close to the original while still giving it a unique twist. Unfortunately, Tim Roseanau and Toddiefunk have provided some of the more awkward Christmas songs I've listened to in a while. Everyone is entitled to make their own songs that spread Christmas cheer, but there's a good chance these two songs won't fit with most listeners.

As I listened to this album, I had to ask myself, "Do I want to spend Christmas in Diverse City?" I wouldn't say that it would be my first choice, but there are still some good songs here. It cannot be easily dismissed nor easily accepted. But one thing is for sure; it does not lack Christmas spirit. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year and it's about time we had some more hip-hop flavored Christmas music. So if that's what you've been wanting, this album is a must for your holiday needs.

- Review date: 10/3/11, written by Ryan Barbee of

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JFH Staff's Second Opinion

Believe it or not, TobyMac has never released a Christmas album up to this point. While a two-song EP was released in 2002 and a single ("Christmas This Year," featuring Leigh Nash) in 2010, he's never released a proper comprehensive Christmas project, but Christmas In Diverse City has come to light. While Toby's prior three songs are included in this collection in rerecorded forms, listeners are introduced to three more TobyMac Christmas renditions, as well as seven recordings from individual members of Toby's Diverse City band. To sum up this album's approach, it's hit-and-miss. Though it boasts a guest spot from Owl City, "The First Noel" feels very standard and lacks real innovation. However, "Mary's Boy Child" with Jamie Grace is an improvement, combining her acoustic sound with TobyMac's charm to create a great cover, and "Little Drummer Boy" is also a successful selection with creative synths and percussion at the forefront. Unfortunately, the second half of Christmas In Diverse City has its own share of problems, too. While one can admire the idea of giving Toby's band members their own spots on an album, they do make the album terribly disjointed and inconsistent. Tracks from Maj, Byron "Mr. Talkbox" Chambers and Arch Nemisiz are all done reasonably well, and although "fun" is without a doubt the operative word at hand, some tracks lack of significance and hurt the album's overall value; guitarist Tim Rosenau's "It Snowed" comes off as out-of-place on the album and Toddiefunk's "Santa'scomin'baka'round!" is awkwardly unenjoyable. And at the risk of coming off as a Scrooge, the vocals from young children on the album get quite old and in the end are more annoying than endearing. Pairing Christmas spirit and TobyMac's musical genius could have been a classic combination, but the outcome seems to prove otherwise. To be fair, Christmas In Diverse City does more right things than not, but given Toby's pedigree of inventive composition and pleasurable atmosphere, the middle-of-the-road result is disheartening overall. - Roger Gelwicks, 10/2/11


. Record Label: Forefront Records
. Album length: 13 tracks: 48 minutes, 3 seconds
. Street Date: October 4, 2011
. Buy It: iTunes
. Buy It: Amazon Music (MP3)
. Buy It:

  1. Christmas This Year (Featuring Leigh Nash) (3:30)*
  2. The First Noel (Featuring Owl City) (3:30)
  3. Mary's Boy Child (Featuring Jamie Grace) (2:34)
  4. O Come All Ye Faithful (3:53)*
  5. Little Drummer Boy (3:36)
  6. This Christmas (Father of the Fatherless) Featuring Nirva Ready (3:00)*

  7. Carol Of The Kings (3:56) – Maj (Featuring Gabe Real & Liquid)
  8. Birth of Love (4:16) – SUPERHEROSE
  9. What Child Is This? (2:44) – Arch Nemesiz
  10. It Snowed (4:14) – Tim Rosenau
  11. Angels We Have Heard On High (4:39) – Nirva Ready
  12. Santa'scomin'baka'round! (3:51) – toddiefunk
  13. Christmas Time (4:28) – Byron "Mr. Talkbox" Chambers
    *new versions


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