The Critics Corner | Albums

Hiding Place Tori Kelly emerges from her “Hiding Place”, crafts new gospel album
Alan HopAlbum name: Hiding Place
Label: Capitol Records
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Rating: -- 3.5 out of 5

Review written by: Jeremy Gruen
Ever since discovering Tori Kelly’s YouTube video covers of songs like Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie”, MJ’s “PYT”, and most infamously Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You”, I had been keeping tabs on this female vocalist and just waiting for her to blow up. In 2012, Tori independently released her first EP titled Handmade Songs by Tori Kelly that she produced, wrote, and mixed herself; and I fell in love. With the album featuring emotional pop ballad “All In My Head” containing stellar vocals, and a contemporary R&B/Pop blend with exquisite guitar chords and riffs titled “Confetti”, it was only a matter of a time before someone with a stature such as Scooter Braun scooped her up.

Two years after being signed to Capitol records and managed by Braun, Tori Kelly released her powerful debut Funk-Pop Unbreakable Smile and it opened at number 2 on the Billboard 200. With lead single “Nobody Love,” this album combined all forms of Kelly’s singer personality from Pop bangers like “Should’ve Been Us” and “Hollow”, to the emotional ballad “I Was Made For Loving You” (featuring the current master of the genre, Ed Sheeran), to the authentic, raw, and truth-telling “Unbreakable Smile”.

And after a long 3 year wait, we finally get to see another side of the Californian singer as she goes back to her Christian-influenced childhood roots, bringing Kirk Franklin along for a masterfully produced Gospel album entitled Hiding Place.

The album begins with “Masterpiece” and it truly is exactly that. Beginning with panned gospel choir jazz chords, Tori freely unleashes her riff-tastic voice only to easily transition into a Cee Lo Green-like funk pop jam where she asks for god's embrace as she says “Just one request from me / God take my heart forever it’s yours / Make me your masterpiece.” At the 3:18 mark, all instrumentation but piano fades as Tori’s vocals and the bass line carry us into a half time R&B breakdown, followed by a verse from Christian Hip-Hop rapper, Lecrae. The song ends on a dominant with Tori unresolved on the 7th, leaving us on a cliffhanger and wanting more.

In order to mend that unsettling state the listener is left in, Tori provides an inspirational and comforting message with “Help Us to Love”, this one written and produced by the aforementioned Kirk Franklin. The song debuted live at the Stellar Awards, the first and oldest televised awards show honoring gospel music artists, writers, and industry professionals. With the assistance of The Hamiltones, the song emulates the need to love one another, especially during times of distress when people need others support the most.

In “Sunday”, Tori sings about her own flaws and “All these hidden scars / and all the mess I made” incorporating smooth jazzy vocals with yet another one of her incredible abilities, scatting. The end of the record includes Kelly laughing and remarking about how the take was “fine”, revealing how down to earth she remains despite an increasingly growing musical career. With this song, just like “Unbreakable Smile,” Tori reminds us that it’s not about the persona and the glamour but about what kind of individual you are at your core and that it is okay to have a shameful past so long as you rise above.

The authenticity of the acoustic guitar on “Just as Sure” sends a homing beacon back to Tori’s foundation as a singer-songwriter. With a religious message and complimentary vocals from Jonathan McReynolds that are both light and uplifting, combined with the song’s mellow harmonies and resonant walking bass line, a sense of clarity, belonging, and warmth settles in just midway through the album.

Tori continues the theme of dependance and devotion to god with Psalm 42, quoting the first line of scripture “As the deer pants for the [streams of] water / So my soul needs you lord”. Though the song isn’t as complex and engaging as others, it is clear from how deep a source of emotion this song emerged from its hiding place within her roots.

Surprisingly, Kelly then “Questions” God about the atrocities in the world and “What happens when the healing never comes”. The existence of unnecessary pain and suffering in the world has baffled both philosophers and religious leaders for centuries and continues to be struggled with and expressed through artistic means. Yet, Tori acknowledges that though she’d love to hear god’s voice and understand his reasoning, she knows that she must accept the way it is since he was there at the beginning and “knows the end”.

“Never Alone” furthers this faith-driven concept as she states she has experienced sadness and pain but knows someone is watching out for her and always has the divine within her company. The key change up a third from F# to A near the end of the song at the 2:48 mark highlights Tori’s exceptional durability and adaptability, both as a musician and a human being traversing through the peaks and valleys of life.

“Soul’s Anthem” is breath of fresh, pure vocals and a perfectly fitting track to close out the album. Embracing acapella and the human voice as the church once did in its origins, Tori exemplifies why she can be deemed one of the top vocal powerhouses of our generation. She is backed by a bright and brilliant gospel choir and finishes over a resolved “Hmm” in the background vocals to tie a knot around the impeccable project.

If you’re yearning for a sense of meaning (and a tug on the heart strings) through an emotionally provoking piece of art, look no further than Tori Kelly’s Hiding Place.
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