Music That Helped Us Through The Summer, Part 6: Yola
Two years after her debut “Walk Through Fire” came out on the indie Easy Eye Sound label, Yolanda Quartey, known as Yola, came up with another rich and classy genre-defying album in late July. “Stand For Myself”, produced by Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys, is full of Americana, Soul, Country, Folk, Gospel. But the most rewarding thing on this album is Yola’s supple, intimate voice, gracing the mostly country-oriented songs with lots of soul and class. “Great Divide” for example, co-written with Paul Overstreet, the Mississippi-born singer, songwriter, and guitarist, easily matches the two genres without any fear and faux gimmicks in the studio.
Which actually is another excellent characteristic of the album: the very subdued, gentle, no-frills vibe is really something rare these days. Kudos to Mister Auerbach and also to mastering maestros Alan Silverman and Ryan Smith. There is a certain urgency on the gently grooving “Starlight”, which Yola wrote with Bobby Wood, another Mississippi-born pianist and songwriter. Country and pop mingle on “If I Had To Do It All Again”, written with country songwriter Natalie Hemby. Strings also abound on the album, courtesy of Matt Combs, a versatile instrumentalist from Nashville who has worked with the best artists in the country.
My favorite track is a deep South soul beauty called “Now You’re Here”, where Yola’s gorgeous vocals are backed by Gospel singers Alfreda, Ann, and Regina McCrary. Yola moves from self-effacing to sky-high cheers. An amazing piece. Can’t get enough of this. Yola sends shivers. Fleetwood Mac meets Dolly Parton on “Whatever You Want”, co-written with Songwriters Hall Of Fame member John Bettis. We also get a pretty rocking, old-school soul mix on “Break The Bough” and a wonderful country ballad, complete with subtle steel guitar and gentle backing vocals: “Like A Photograph” was co-written with country songwriter Pat McLaughlin, and the title track coming across like country meets alt-pop.
The album opens with the very charming soul ballad “Barely Alive” and my second highlight of the set, the pretty evocative, soaring brass-led “Dancing Away In Tears”, a perfect pop number with svelte drum work courtesy of Aaron Frazer, and a hookline to die for. And I was once again reminded of 1975/1976 Fleetwood Mac after listening to “Diamond Studded Shoes” and “Be My Friend”. How refreshing it is to hear Glockenspiel, Harpsichord, Mellotron, Rhodes, and different old-school synths (played by Ray Jacildo and Mike Rojas) in combination with various guitars and strings, all accompanying one of the most beautiful and powerful voices to come up in the last couple of years.
In addition to the plain black vinyl version, there is also a purple one for you crate diggers out there. Make sure to turn up the volume when listening to “Dancing Away In Tears” and “Now You’re Here”.