British born “Queen of Country Soul”? Why not? “Walk Through Fire” firmly establishes British born vocalist, Yola, as precisely that. My first encounter with this magnetic voice was “Faraway Look”, a single that played on NPR’s Ideastream before the official release of the album. My initial impression was a modern take on 60s era Brit-pop with a splash of Motown. It actually reminded me of LuLu, though Yola’s vocals are far superior. As the album continued, I kept getting distinct hints of country and kept asking myself if I was hearing what I was hearing.
“Love All Night (Work All Day)” has a title and some 70s era tremolo guitar licks running through it that made the song just beautiful and homey. This was a quintessentially country song in terms of tempo and arrangement. Once I got a look at the music video for this one, as well as “Ride Out In the Country”, there was no mistaking the musical direction of the album. However, it is important that I prepare someone looking for a little Loretta or Dolly, that while this is essentially a country album, it is also a soul album, hence the assertion on Yola’s website that she is the “Queen of Country Soul”. If this is a new genre, I’m here for it. There is also darkness in the work. It’s conveyed quite clearly in the images in her videos, but if you listen to the lyrics there is almost a supernaturally “Bluesy” darkness to them. Additionally, this feels a bit like a crossover album in that it brings together two genres of music you wouldn’t expect to see together.
There was nothing to dislike about this album. Yola has a powerful voice and a rich and dark timber that I haven’t heard in a female vocalist in years. Dan Auerbach of “Black Keys” fame, produced this album. I wasn’t surprised to discover this since his own debut effort had some heavily blues-influenced songs. This was a dream collaboration for listeners and heightened my excitement for its release. Yola could have done far worse for a producer than Auerbach. And he clearly understood her vision. Together they produced something that demonstrated her range by choosing updated arrangements from the ages, effectively demonstrating the “timelessness” of Yola’s voice. Whether Auerbach is involved in her next effort or not, I am looking forward to seeing what Yola does next.
All of the songs can be listened to on npr.org, or you can just check out her videos on youtube. As always, I am going to recommend that you actually buy the album on iTunes or wherever you prefer that the album is available.