TobyMac continues his string of quality releases with his fifth remix album, called The St. Nemele Collab Sessions, bringing in a multiplicity of producers and guest vocalists to offer a fresh take on ten of the songs from his 2018 album, The Elements. There is also one all-new song, "Heart Of My Beat," included as the last track of the album. For most fans, remix albums are typically polarizing; either you love them or you hate them. Purists will have trouble hearing anything better than the original, while some fans just want to roll down their car windows and let the tunes fill the air of the night. Bottom line, just like his four prior remix albums, this one is a mixed bag. As with any TobyMac album, the production is pristine; everything here sounds amazing. Also, the addition of guest vocalists adds an element of vocal diversity missing from prior albums. However, this positive addition of outside singers is also the album's greatest weakness as not all vocalists fit the song stylistically, or have enough to do to justify inclusion.
In my opinion, the two vocalists that work best are the female assisted songs "The Elements" and "Scars (Come From Livin')," which feature Jen Ledger (LEDGER/Skillet) and Sarah Reeves, respectively. The duo of Toby and Jen on "The Elements" is my pick for the best overall song on the album. The David Crowder collaboration on "Hello Future" is another highlight, combining Crowder's electronica experience with DJ Maj's remixed beats. Gospel artist Johnathan McReynold's smooth voice takes "Everything" to another level, transforming it from a pop radio song to a trap-soaked jam. Aaron Cole fits "Horizon (A New Day)" well, standing out most in the final third of the song with his fast-paced rapping and ad-libs. Lastly, the new song "Heart Of My Beat" is a worthy addition to the TobyMac canon with its high presence of horns and trap beats propelling the tune forward.
Conversely, the song collabs that don't quite seem to work as well are from similarly fantastic singers; they just don't fit the tone or style of the song quite right. Curious pairings include MercyMe's Bart Millard, Jordan Feliz, Matt Maher, and Cory Asbury. These are all quality singers, they just don't have much to add to the remixed versions of these songs, or stand out in any way worth noting. Songs "Overflow," "See The Light," "It's You," and "I Just Need U" play it a little too safe, and come off as experiments best left to a b-side complication. Largely, that's my biggest gripe with Toby as a fan from the DC Talk days forward; where are the risks? What about some collabs with producers or beatmakers outside of the Christian music bubble? St. Nemele feels very calculated and controlled, sterile and safe. I would have loved to see him take some chances on this remix project that doesn't carry with it the pressure of a normal album to hit big. For that matter, what a better place to feature former bandmates Michael and/or Kevin in place of one of the worship singer collabs of Matt Maher or Cory Asbury. Why not work with crossover artists and producers like Paul Meany (MuteMath), Tyler Joseph (Twenty One Pilots), Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic) or Tommee Profit? What about a vocalist that's not in the CCM market like Tori Kelly or Justin Beiber? Perhaps this approach just doesn't fit his mission, but this feels like a necessary step to stave off staleness if he is to continue making music into his fifth decade.
All in all, St. Nemele is a quality project and has several songs that deserve high marks, but this reviewer just doesn't see a whole album of tunes that needed to be released. However, fans of TobyMac, his remix albums, and trap beats will find plenty to enjoy with "The Elements," "Hello Future," "Everything," and "Scars (Come With Livin')" being the best of the bunch.- Review date: 8/24/19, written by Josh Balogh of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Forefront Records / Capitol CMG
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