Hello and happy Sunday, friends!
I have been so excited to post something more lighthearted, but it is definitely not short of soulful.
If you really know me, you would know how CRAZY I am about this young lady named Tori Kelly!
Tori has been one of my favorite artists since about 2012 when she did this awesome cover of “Thinkin’ Bout You” with Angie Girl. She released two EPs that captured my heart and attention because the music had such an air of simplicity but it packed ALL the punches.
Tori’s voice has such incredible range and is one that gives you the chills. Her lyrics resonate so deeply with me as a female who has fallen in and out of love, learning to balance my own self-identity with the identity I have been given as a daughter of the Most High, and navigating my way through life. Besides being beautiful, Tori has shown such authenticity to her fans that you just can’t help but adore her!
#FOREWORD (you like my play on words?) to June 23, 2015 when Tori Kelly’s debut, full-length album “Unbreakable Smile” was released!!
I was so excited for this that I pre-ordered a physical copy AND downloaded the bonus track version from iTunes. IT IS THE #TRUTH! I decided to do a track-by-track review of the bonus track version because it includes one of my all time favorites. Enjoy!
1. Where I Belong
This intro track gave a sampling of the clarity in Tori’s voice and how good it pairs with a guitar. I really felt it was a hook for the message of the album, and honestly Tori’s career. She solidifies her position in the industry as a singer who really is different from the rest.
2. Unbreakable Smile
I had to include a video for this one because it’s a delight to listen to a deconstructed version. The title track is an empowering anthem, no doubt. It’s lyrically creative, with lines like “Because to make it you think I got to act a certain way, be a little bit insane, live a little, it’s ok/I guess we have different definitions of living but you’ll twist my words anyway” and “Thinking maybe they’ll let me sing songs about real things/Baby who knows, maybe I can sell out shows without taking off my clothes/God made me sexy I don’t care if I only I know”. YOU SING IT GIRL! I memorized lyrics for this one immediately and it is a go-to track to sing when I am driving in my car.
3. Nobody Love
This song was released as the first single of the album and I’ll be honest, I was worried Tori’s new music wouldn’t match the depth of her previously released EPs. It grew on me as I watched Tori perform it live, plus the horn section and breakdown is so popular nowadays that it had all the markings of a hit. I definitely love the sultriness of this one!
4. Expensive (feat. Daye Jack)
Another song with that cool big-band feel, but this one highlights more of Tori’s infectious fun personality. I love Daye Jack’s line but as I was writing this I stopped and asked myself, what does Daye Jack’s other music sound like? So I briefly explored his album Soul Glitch and I was intrigued by his creative and almost nostalgic hip-hop style. The flavor doesn’t end with this track, though!
5. Should’ve Been Us
There are a few songs on here that really tug on my heart strings and this is the first one. I’ll get this out of the way…ALL THE FEELS! Tori kills it on the vocals of this song and it is filled with such angst and passion. Whenever I listen to this song, I am brought back to a period following a breakup where I was filled with a little of that angst and passion because I believed that it was a “meant to be” relationship. Time has gone by, and I see that those feelings were real and this song should have been the soundtrack of my life.
6. First Heartbreak
Such beauty, such heart. This song has such a liberating quality but it also tells the story of almost every person in love. It plays out like this: I really, really like this person so I can’t mess it up. I don’t want to lose them…EVER. Yeah, I have been there. You want to protect it and nurture whatever you have for as long as you can. The one thing that Tori hits home is the acknowledgement that a relationship/love can come to an end, and we can’t prevent ourselves from feeling heartbreak.
7. I Was Made For Loving You (feat. Ed Sheeran)
A photo was necessary for this track because your eyes need to witness this angelic union! Tori and Ed are like the queen and king of slow songs and an acoustic guitar. All I could picture is Tori and Ed singing, strumming, and swaying to the music, just vibing like two great artists should! I literally swelled up with joy when I heard the lines “Please don’t go, I’ve been waiting so long/Oh, you don’t even know me at all, but I was made for loving you”. I guess I am a romantic.
8. City Dove
Ok, this is another go-to for belting out tunes in my car! I like that this is stacked between all the heart-bearing songs. I also have a love for birds and I have always wanted to fly so this song is a win-win. Tori reveals her humility and down-to-earth character in “City Dove” and I really appreciate the creativity in relating that.
I like the progression in this song A WHOLE LOT. It was infused with R&B qualities that reminds you of Tori’s great musicianship. It might be an overlooked song on the album, but it is honestly calling people out on their empty promises. Good to know Tori doesn’t buy it.
10. Funny (Live)
Five-stars for the inclusion of a live performance! The lyrics were a reality check for my own life, a bit of discernment of what is real and what isn’t. This refrain sounded like it came from a worship song:
You’ll be crying out, Lord,
don’t let me hit the ground
Your soul is crying out,
don’t let me hit the ground
I didn’t hit the ground but I was very close to this in the spring semester, overloaded with 20 units of classwork, a part-time job, internship, two leadership teams, and dance. I desired to reach the top in all of these things and of course I fell short, but unlike Tori, I was unsure of “how to brace for the fall”. Matthew 16:26-27 reads “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” So much power in two short verses and this song brings them to life.
11. Art of Letting You Go
The chorus of this song is the answer to what happens after that “First Heartbreak”-basically where I was at just a short while ago. For the most part, I am a logical or rational person, but this love thing definitely takes over even when I try hard to avoid it. I don’t know if I have mastered the art, so to speak, but I have released and committed those last few memories to the past. Just like “Paper Hearts” did before, this song does a great job of describing a place of vulnerability that we can be afraid of venturing to.
12. California Lovers (feat. LL Cool J)
Back in the day, there was a handsome young hip-hop lad by the name of LL Cool J or “Ladies Love Cool James.” Today, they still love James and I was pleasantly surprised to see his name on the track listings! This is another nostalgic jam, and it’s perfect for the summer. I have only one issue to take up: while Tori is from the Golden State, LL Cool J is from Long Island. Maybe Snoop Dogg would have been a better match?
13. Falling Slow
What stands out to me in this song immediately is the hip-hop beats alongside the violin; it is reminiscent of a young Alicia Keys. It is also strong lyrically, and it captures the more rational side of entering a relationship. It is the antithesis to the way I feel as described in the song “Art of Letting You Go”, but it is very similar to “First Heartbreak” in the sense that you remain worried about the turn of events in a relationship. Either way, Tori Kelly is just so raw in her emotions throughout the entire album!
When I listen to this song as the final track in the standard version of the album, I love that it ends with a track about Tori’s self-confidence. It is also super catchy and unapologetically the Tori we all know and love. It reminds me a lot of “Confetti” from the Handmade Songs by Tori Kelly EP. I have a really good feeling that Tori has left her imprint on the industry with this album and will continue to show everyone just how phenomenal she is!
15. Dear No One (Bonus Track)
Ok, if you have ever heard of Tori Kelly before this year, it’s most likely due to this diddy right here. This is the song that began ALL THE FEELS. I have called one of my categories on this blog “Ambivert Adventures” and these lyrics probably have a lot to do with it:
I don’t really like big crowds
I tend to shut people out
I like my space, yeah
But I’d love to have a soulmate
And God’ll give him to me someday
And I know it’ll be worth the wait, oh
Now you know a little bit more about why I love her so much! I was surprised that it was included on the full-length album since it was on the Foreword EP, but no complaints. It is the song of my soul.
16. Beautiful Things (Bonus Track)
Tori’s voice can be very powerful and strong, but other times it is just really, really pretty. It is showcased so well in this song. If I was asked to direct a music video to this song, it would be a split screen of Tori and her significant other going through each day without each other. You’d really feel the pain of distance. Even if this wasn’t chosen to be the song to do a split screen, one of these songs has to be done as such because all the comparisons to Lauryn Hill wouldn’t be complete without it!