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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

TobyMac is back at the Spokane Arena

Contemporary Christian singer TobyMac will perform Thursday at the Arena.  (Courtesy)

Some great songs have been created when a songwriter in agony found the strength to create. “Tears in Heaven” is one of the finest tunes crafted by Eric Clapton, which was penned after his 4-year-old son Conor lost his life in a tragic accident.

The touching “Since I Lost You” was inspired by Conor Clapton’s death and was written by Phil Collins and recorded by Genesis for their close friend, Clapton. A number of Nirvana songs written by Kurt Cobain, such as “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” “Heart Shaped Box” and “You Know You’re Right” were written at the height of misery.

“Life After Death,” the latest album by TobyMac aka Toby McKeehan, is the deepest and most personal project created by the Contemporary Christian recording artist, who will return Thursday to the Arena.

McKeehan’s son, Truett, 21, an aspiring rapper, died of an accidental drug overdose in 2019. There is no pain greater for a parent than the loss of a child.

“Life After Death” is a poignant mix of songs that range from the funky to earnest. The gospel tune “Help is on the Way (Maybe Midnight)” is one of the most moving songs in the TobyMac canon. “The Goodness” is uplifting. The pretty “Promised Land” features an impressive boost courtesy of Sheryl Crow. McKeehan upped the ante in his darkest hour. “I immediately started writing (after Truett’s death),” McKeehan said from Nashville, Tennessee. “That’s what I do when I’m in pain. This is my journey put to music.”

McKeehan, 59, has been on a musical trek since he formed D.C. Talk with Michael Tait in 1987, when the longtime friends attended Liberty University. After a 14-year run with the popular Contemporary Christian group, McKeehan went solo in 2001 with “Momentum.”

Nine TobyMac albums have been released and more than 10 million have been sold. The seven-time Grammy winner has six No. 1 CHR singles, including “Gone,” “Made to Love,” and “Lose My Soul.”

McKeehan has six songs that have hit the top of Billboard’s Christian Songs chart.

“It’s been an incredible career,” McKeehan said. “… I make an effort with everything I do. I’m compelled to make music and entertain. It’s my passion. I keep coming up with new ideas.”

McKeehan and his music sound youthfu.

“I still listen to new music,” McKeehan said. “I think that helps a lot, but it’s not a chore. I love doing it.

“If you play music professionally, you should love doing it and that’s what my life is all about. I love music, all styles of it.”

That’s a big reason McKeehan has been so eclectic throughout his long career.

“It comes out in all different ways,” McKeehan said. “That’s the way it’s always been for me. My records are a big pot of gumbo.

“I grew up with rock ‘n’ roll and rap and I love reggae. I grew up on Hall & Oates, Arrested Development and Bob Marley and I think my music reflects that.”

McKeehan’s influences are evident, but his lyrics are unique, with personal and deep messages.

“That’s because of my faith,” McKeehan said. “I write songs about my life. My faith plays a huge part. I don’t think anyone else writes like me because they’re not living my life.

“I’m the only person that can be doing exactly what I’m doing.”

McKeehan also writes from the perspective of a father and husband.

“Each day of my life is interesting,” McKeehan said. “There’s always something to write about. I’m blessed that way.”