Album Review: Unbreakable Smile

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Tori Kelly, an up-and-comer from California who has been mentored under the wings of Ed Sheeran, finally released her debut LP, Unbreakable Smile. For fans of the soulful, heartfelt singer-songwriter, it seems this release was a long day coming. Kelly has opened for Sheeran in the last couple years, and got her true introduction this year at the Billboard Music Awards in May, performing her single, “Nobody Love.” Now, with Unbreakable Smile finally released, the world can truly recognize Kelly’s talent.

The album opens with “Where I Belong,” and the first words are the perfect introduction to who Tori Kelly is as an artist, and more importantly, as a person. “I’m just a girl with her guitar, trying to give you my whole heart,” Kelly sings, and the sincerity yet musicality is simple and beautiful, easily making you want to hear more of Kelly’s talent on guitar and with her vocals.

The first full song is the title track, “Unbreakable Smile,” and it is Tori Kelly to a “T.” It’s message is reminiscent of Meghan Trainor, completely empowering to the female artist and just being true to yourself, whether it’s in music or just everyday life. It’s also incredibility catchy—a mix of fast and slow that is just pure fun. “Unbreakable Smile” is the perfect opener for Kelly, setting the album up for sure success.

Her single, “Nobody Love,” follows, continuing the upbeat, honest attitude that seems to follow Kelly and her flouncy curls.

“Expensive” is next, starting off with a fun, jazzy mix. It could easily be Kelly’s next single, with definite “summer jam” potential. Her own musical talent is a little lacking—it’s more Christina Aguilera than typical Tori Kelly with guitar and soulful vocals. The lyrics are still empowering, however, if a little cliché, asserting that “money don’t buy love.” But I have to admit, it still had me dancing in my chair.

“Should’ve Been Us” has an almost Beyoncé feel to it, but it is an R&B side of Tori Kelly that should be familiar to her fans. The track gives a little more testament to Kelly’s vocal range; her straining voice is emotional and captivating.

“First Heartbreak” is the first slow song on the album, a true breakup song. Kelly showcases more of her range, from the deeper, slower beginning to the heartfelt strain of the chorus. It takes the music and emotion of “Should’ve Been Us” to the next level in an almost cumulative manner.

“I Was Made For Loving You” might be the most anticipated song off the album because it features Ed Sheeran himself. It opens with the sweet and subtle voice of Kelly, accompanied by a lovely guitar melody that is reminiscent of Sheeran–his “Tenerife Sea” in particular. Sheeran comes in on the second verse, bringing the emotional level up a notch. It is a beautiful duet, the artists’ voices paired much more perfectly than Sheeran’s other duets, like Taylor Swift, for example. But with such talent together (Kelly and Sheeran) the words almost get lost, and what could be a truly meaningful song is not quite there.

“City Dove” opens much differently, with a purposely slowed down instrumental background and vocal presence from Kelly. It comes across much more raw than the rest of Kelly’s tracks, making you want to pay attention to the words as she works her way through feeling lost and finding yourself. Still, there is a hopeful positivity that permeates the song.

“Talk” utilizes a unique guitar rhythm and the highest vocal range from Kelly thus far. It’s got a catchy beat that starts to unfold at the bridge, but Kelly pulls up short at the chorus, which is a little disappointing.

“Funny” is actually a live song on the album. It’s rather clever, because it proves that Kelly has talent both in the studio and in person. It is a slow ballad with just Kelly and her guitar—our favorite kind of Tori Kelly. Not to mention the lyrics, bringing you back down to earth and being true to yourself. It is another theme that defines Kelly and that she has clearly stuck to.

“Art of Letting You Go” is another more R&B track of memories and learning from love. It is emotional and well produced, in line with Kelly’s hit “Dear No One.”

“California Lovers” brings back the fun of “Nobody Love” and “Unbreakable Smile” with the help of LL Cool J. It’s another good, carefree summer song, bringing Kelly back to her roots. It’s also relatable, telling the story of recalling and wanting to return to past romances.

“Falling Slow” opens with a captivating mix of snaps and chorus work, while also being a throwback to some of our favorite ‘90s pop princesses. For those not familiar with Tori Kelly it might seem a little odd, but the soulful mix is not that far off for the singer-songwriter. It also shows that she is perfectly confident in her own sound.

The fourteen-track album ends with “Anyway,” another jazzy, upbeat mix. Kelly puts all her sass and confidence into each word and note, living her words of “giving 100 percent of me.” It’s practically an anthem for Kelly, and the perfect way to go out with a bang.

Even without Unbreakable Smile it was clear that Tori Kelly was an immense new talent. Finally having a full-length is only further proof of that, and it is unlikely Kelly is going away any time soon. While her music is a little different, almost the type that you need to be in the right mood for, you cannot deny she has a power all her own. That being said, Unbreakable Smile is definitely worth checking out, even if it is just to acknowledge the newcomer.

Rating: 3.5/5

Recommended Songs:
“Unbreakable Smile”
“I Was Made For Loving You”

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