Hiding Place

Tori Kelly

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Hiding Place Review

by Matt Collar

On her third full-length album, 2018's Kirk Franklin-produced Hiding Place, singer Tori Kelly pivots away from the secular pop of her platinum-selling 2015 album, Unbreakable Smile, and delivers a joyful set of faith-based songs that balance contemporary gospel soulfulness with warm R&B hooks. Given Kelly's move to a sleek contemporary gospel vibe, her fans who came on board with previous singles like "Dear No One" and "Could've Been Us" might worry that she has sacrificed some of her own personality and acoustic guitar-based style in service of fitting into a specific genre box. Thankfully, while there is an overall tonal shift here, the results feel organic and true to who Kelly, a practicing Christian, seems to be. One of the pleasing aspects of Hiding Place is the organic soundscape Franklin and Kelly achieve, deftly combining Stevie Wonder-esque '70s instrumentation with an ear for the ringing, sleek gospel productions Franklin is known for. Tracks like the opening "Masterpiece," featuring rapper Lecrae, and the buoyant "Sunday" find Franklin framing Kelly's highly resonant voice with vibrant gospel backing vocalists, organ, and crisp bass grooves. Elsewhere, Kelly is joined by Anthony Hamilton's vocal trio, the Hamiltones, on the passionate "Help Us to Love," and displays her knack for earnest, emotive balladry on the thoughtful "Psalm 42." Franklin himself joins her on the uplifting "Never Alone," as does singer Jonathan McReynolds for the laid-back acoustic guitar number "Just as Sure." Certainly, taken as a shift from the world of pop to gospel, there's a sense of genre exploration and discovery here, and Hiding Place is as much a Kirk Franklin production as a Tori Kelly solo album. That said, even when she is singing a song written by Franklin, as with the searching "Questions," in which she ruminates on the challenges of keeping one's faith in the face of tragedy and despair, the sentiments always feel genuine. Ultimately, while the gospel nature of the album will certainly cater to fans of Christian-based pop, the religious messages shouldn't stop Kelly's secular fans from enjoying what she's achieved here.

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