Californian born singer-songwriter Tori Kelly releases her third album after working hard to get into the limelight by releasing videos of her covers and original songs on YouTube.
At the age of 16 she entered herself into the ninth series of American Idol (2010), but music mogul Simon Cowell was not impressed. “I thought your voice was almost quite annoying. I’m gonna say no. I think these three are mad but there you go,” he said. Kelly was not about to give up there.
In 2012 without support she released her first EP. After being recognised she was then signed to Capitol Records, releasing the follow up EP Foreword as her first major label debut.
Cautious not to lose herself in the music industry Kelly promises to “not forget where I came from”, trying to stay true to her vision in an industry where fame can lead artists to become egotistical and ugly.
She has the soul of Sade Adu with a voice that matches Ariana Grande; however the natural, authentic style she has given herself makes her a little restrained on the album. It lacks that diva-ish attitude and it needs more sass.
Being an acoustic artist she never gets lost in the production. Opening the album with a two-minute intro Where I Belong and just a soulful voice and her guitar, she shows fans it is ok to be yourself.
Following suit is Unbreakable Smile with a gracious beat from the acoustic piano and the energetic snare drums as she sings over with her airy voice “Maybe I could sell out shows without taking off my clothes, God made me sexy I don’t care if only I know.” Again she echoes the theme of being true to herself on her musical journey.
Nobody Love is the albums first lead single making it to position 60 in the Billboard’s Top 100 in May 2015. An optimistic pop song with an influential hip-hop undertow, it’s reminiscent of 90’s R&B divas like Aaliyah and Mariah Carey.
She changes the tone halfway through with Expensive. A more upbeat, techno, dance track featuring 18-year-old rap-singer Daye Jack who has also just hit the music industry. An unusual choice for the soulful artist, its funky melody makes me lose sight of the message as she belts over it.
First Heartbreak is your more conventional love song. Stripped down with not a lot of production to just Kelly and her guitar alongside a piano. She is on her best form, showing her vulnerability here, much different from Dear No-one and Anyway where she is more knowledgeable on what she wants from love: “Cause for the first time I get worried when I’m looking in your eyes, that one day you will leave me and it keeps me up all night. If you ever left me that would be my first heartbreak.”
This shows a more naïve, less experienced Kelly as she is experiencing her first “real” love yet trying her hardest to avoid it being her First Heartbreak. On first listen you can hear the vulnerability in her voice, every note she sings gives it that emotional ambience.
A collaboration that was bound to happen is I Was Made For Loving You featuring Ed Sheeran. You would be foolish to skip this track. A simplistic ballad where there is nothing but a couple orchestral strings, guitars and a scattered bass line to enhance their vocals yet this song captures their essence.
Two songs that worked less well are City Dove and Talk. Showing a totally different side to Kelly, one that seems untrue to what she stands for. It is almost too well produced and edited, unnecessary for someone who’s sound is so beautiful and organic.
This is quite ironic when we return to just Kelly and her guitar on Funny a track where she explores the burdens of fame and the struggles she will endure to remain the same. She gives a club atmosphere with a strong, persistent rhythm of album closer Anyway.
Kelly has an undeniably good voice with pipes that will stop anybody in their tracks however she is lacking in something that could make Unbreakable Smile the big album she needs to build her reputation. Kelly needs to stick too the stripped down songs, where it shows off her vocal abilities like soul artists Jill Scott or Erykah Badu.
Words by Shaaveh Spence-Jones