Just because you don’t win American Idol doesn’t mean you won’t go far. Plenty of singers have proven that theory, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, Chris Daughtry, Clay Aiken and Mandisa among them. And we can add Tori Kelly to that list, too, a singer who didn’t even make it into the top 24 contestants in Season 9 of Fox’s reality singing competition back in 2010.
But that setback didn’t stop her. Kelly has since released two EPs and two studio albums, Unbreakable Smile and her latest effort, Hiding Place.
Composed of eight songs and featuring guest contributors such as Kirk Franklin, Lecrae and The HamilTones, this album is slightly different from her first, style-wise. You might say that it’s less pop and more gospel, with a dose of R&B mixed in, too. But Kelly’s sweet voice still matches her similarly sweet message as she recognizes that God is a refuge from the ups and downs of life.
“Soul’s Anthem (It Is Well)” fuses the classic hymn referenced in parentheses with confessions about Kelly’s own personal struggles. She prayerfully sings, “Show me how to trust You/More than with my words or with a song” even in moments when “fear sometimes can leave me paralyzed” or when “the enemy’s against me/Arrows all around me/In seasons of depression.” No matter the struggles, though, she echoes Scripture when she sings, “This fight I’m in is not of flesh and blood/The weapons that I need are all in Your love.”
Similarly, “Just as Sure” says that through every season of life, God still loves us and is faithfully by our side: “Just as sure as winter fades/And then it turns to spring/I believe deliverance, will surely come for me.”
“Questions” poignantly ponders suffering and loss, especially when God can seem—from a human perspective—absent amid such tragedies: “If You care, God, if You’re still there/Bombs falling in Syria/A child dying of AIDS/ … Still we kneeled and prayed/But Heaven can feel silent.” Kelly honestly identifies two potential responses to such horrors, one hardened, the other yielded to God: “What happens when the healing never comes?/Do we stand and curse the heavens/Or lift our hands and feel the sun?”
In “Never Alone” Kelly confesses that life is like a story filled with highs and lows. But, she reminds us, God is always with us along our journey: “I’ve seen many rivers/I’ve walked through some pain/I’ve seen my world crumble/And I’ve carried the shame/But I know Somebody, He calls me his own.”
“Sunday” deals with the temptation to hide our struggles under a facade of spirituality: “Underneath these eyes/Oh, smiles masquerade as pain/ … I’m so far from where they think I am/But when I raise my hands/I’m reaching out for life/Oh, so don’t, don’t let Sunday fool ya’.”
Kelly sings God’s message of hope and love to a broken world in “Help Us to Love”: “This world is weeping, hurting, broken and begging for a change/Oh yeah/But still we marching, praying, dying, and things stay the same/When will we see?/ … God, Your love is the cure.”
“Masterpiece,” featuring Lecrae, tells us that God is in the process of taking all of our regrets and failures and making us into something beautiful: “When my life is not a melody in the morning/And I feel off beat, yeah/Do You still believe in me?/ … You know how to make all things work together/Crazy how mistakes can be miracles in disguise.”
“Psalm 42” personalizes that chapter from Psalms and focuses on God as our source of life and guidance: “There’s a quiet place/That gives me peace when I’m alone with You/There’s a hiding place/Your Spirit’s always there when I’m confused/Only You can purify/All this world won’t ever satisfy/ … As the deer pants for the water/So my soul, needs you Lord.”
In a YouTube interview with Zach Sang, Tori Kelly boldly talked about her faith in God and how His centrality in her life led to the creation of this album. She also said that she grew up on gospel music; so when she was presented with an opportunity to work with Kirk Franklin, she jumped at it. Franklin wrote four of the eight songs here, while he and Kelly co-wrote the other four.
That collaboration has yielded an album that unabashedly boasts of the Good News of the Gospel. Beautiful, worshipful songs contain personal confessions as well as asking difficult questions at times. Addressing those themes, Kelly said:
“It is human to ask questions and to admit that I don’t have all the answers. … A lot of times in the church, we’ve been afraid to doubt. … But when I open up the psalms there is so much doubt and so many questions. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, [but] it helps work out your faith.”
Which, in a way, is exactly what this album does: It helps listeners process their belief in God and, as Tori Kelly mentions, to “work out your faith.” Its strong messages powerfully remind us that God is a good Father and the center of our hope.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).