Yola

By Ron Wynn

NASHVILLE, TN — It’s hard to categorize the music of “Yola,” an exciting vocalist who’s arrived in Nashville by way of Portishead, England. Her latest LP “Stand For Myself” (Easy Eye) has a little bit of everything from an idiomatic standpoint. Rich, exuberant lead vocals, heavy doses of country and blues influences, even bits of a rock and/or disco/dance music influence. This is her second LP, and all 12 tunes are expertly performed and produced. “Stand For Myself” was released July 30.

Her LP is the latest in an impressive string of releases from Black women artists whose sound adeptly combines country, soul and blues. Others include Mickey Guyton, Rissi Palmer, and Miko Marks. This was produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and he enlisted some top talent in collaborative categories. There are tracks co-written with Ruby Amanfu, John Bettis, Pat McLaughlin, Natalie Hemby, Joy Oladokun, Paul Overstreet, Liz Rose, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Hannah Vasanth and Bobby Wood. “It’s a collection of stories of allyship, Black feminine strength through vulnerability, and loving connection from the sexual to the social,” Yola said in a recent press release. “All celebrating a change in thinking and paradigm shift at their core. It is an album not blindly positive and it does not simply plead for everyone to come together. It instead explores ways that we need to stand for ourselves throughout our lives, what limits our connection as humans and declares that real change will come when we challenge our thinking and acknowledge our true complexity.” 

The lead single,”Diamond Studded Shoes,” sets a powerhouse tone for the session. Its lyrics explore the false divides that tend to needlessly separate people. The song’s video was directed by Kwaku Otchere. Yola describes it in this manner, saying that “The video is in part inspired by The Truman Show and is about being trapped in a false construct. It is supposedly perfect, but you’re trapped in a life that wasn’t meant for you. I wanted to convey the feeling that everything you know to be true is not quite working the way it’s supposed to. The island at the end is a paradigm of mental conditioning, we are all trapped on an island of our own thinking, until we change it.”

Yola’s story is an amazing one, though hardly a chronicle of overnight success. She’s been in the business over two decades. She really began making an impact while touring with Chris Stapleton. Auerbach, who also contributes some fine guitar support, recruited studio aces keyboardist Bobby Wood, bassist Nick Moyshon and drummer Aaron Frazer as the main rhythm section, with Brandi Carlile and the McCrary Sisters as background vocalists. 

Given mainstream country radio’s continuing hesitancy to play the music of women artists generally, and even more reluctant to air that of Black women country performers, don’t expect to hear much of “Stand For Myself” on their stations (hopefully Americana radio will ind it). But it certainly is well deserving of attention, and should be the vehicle that ensures greater stardom for Yola.