When Tori Kelly released Hiding Place (review here), her two-time Grammy-winning gospel album, she seemed to have found her groove. Her debut album, Unbreakable Smile, was her initial foray into pop stardom. That album tried to blend Tori’s soulful acoustic pop with the shiny sounds of Max Martin & Co., but the result was a mixed bag of tracks that didn’t properly represent Tori. The album wasn’t incredible, but it definitely showed how gifted of a musician Tori was. On Inspired by True Events, Tori successfully melds the classic pop structures of Unbreakable Smile and the honesty and soul of Hiding Place.
The album is interspersed with snippets of audios from old home videos of Tori’s childhood. Where Unbreakable Smile was concerned with crafting hit singles, Inspired by True Events is intent on telling a very specific story. On the album opener, “Coffee,” Tori matches her intricate vocal arrangements with her witty lyricism to create a track that perfectly sets the scene for the album. “Coffee,” along with “Change Your Mind,” are the songs that are the most reminiscent of the pop songwriting found on Unbreakable Smile. Moreover, the entire album is anchored by Tori’s perfect vocal performance. Yes, perfect. Her runs are expertly phrased and doused in Mariah Carey’s influence, and the gravity of her belts are clear evidence that she draws inspiration from Aretha Franklin. As aforementioned, the soulful center of Hiding Place is present on this new album with heartbreaking ballads like “Sorry Would Go A Long Way” and the absolutely stunning “Until I Think of You.”
The only times Inspired by True Events falters is when the songwriting errs on the side of cliché (“Actress”) or when the momentum stalls on the last three songs of the album. “Change Your Mind” is the only true uptempo on the album, and while Tori sounds beautiful on the midtempos and ballads, she definitely would have benefited from more variety. In terms of her pop material, this is easily Tori’s best effort because it is the most authentic and honest expression of her artistry as it blends all the parts of her that make her such a treasure in today’s mainstream music landscape.
Key Tracks: “Coffee”; “Language”; “Until I Think of You”