Following her breakthrough 2015 debut album, Unbreakable Smile, singer/songwriter Tori Kelly reconnected with her Christian roots and issued the Grammy-winning 2018 gospel follow-up Hiding Place. However, in the wake of those successes, she endured a series of losses. Her 2018 marriage to basketball player André Murillo was a romantic bright spot in a year that saw her endure the death of her grandfather and witness the divorce of her parents. Kelly brings all of these experiences to bear on her emotionally raw third full-length album, 2019's Inspired by True Events. Working with producers Jimmy Napes and Noel Zancanella, Kelly leans into her roller-coaster year, transforming moments of heartache and elation into riveting pop anthems. The results are certainly catchy, as on the yearning "2 Places" and delicately attenuated "Pretty Fades," both of which find Kelly showcasing her rich vocals against a subtle backdrop of woody acoustic guitars and nuanced percussion grooves. In fact, one of the more notable aspects of Inspired by True Events is just how stripped down and minimal it is. It's a sound that Kelly, also an adept guitarist, has favored since her 2013 Foreward EP, and one that complements the naked emotions on display. Nonetheless, there are still some more enveloping arrangements sprinkled throughout, as on the dusky "Kid I Used to Know," in which Kelly evokes a '70s orchestral soul vibe as she reflects on her desire to recapture the breezy enthusiasm of her childhood. Similarly, on the impassioned "Until I Think of You" she frames herself with strings and a vibrant gospel choir. She keeps things similarly understated elsewhere, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar for the relationship drama "Sorry Would Go a Long Way," and weaving in warm organ and choral accents on her homage to her late grandfather, "Your Words." Also adding to the album's organic, personalized tone are several sound clips culled from Kelly's home movies, including one with her father just after her birth in 1992, and one from 1997 featuring an irrepressible five-year-old Kelly talking to her mother about wanting to sing. All of this makes for a heartfelt listen and one that balances Kelly's talent for matching pop hooks with a winning sense of honesty.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar