Unfortunately, I judge both books and compact discs by the covers. Every Friday I take some time to review the iTunes Pre-Order section and see if any covers/artists call my attention; and luckily Yola’s album cover caught my attention. The short sample on iTunes of Faraway Look was enough to reel me in. Soon after, I had downloaded the instant-grat tracks available and I was in love.
I have a penchant for music like Yola’s. You could say Americana really transports me to a place in time, where nostalgia reminds me of the little restraint I felt in life. Interestingly enough, that time would be college. I lived in Tallahassee, Florida and drove through the oak-lined streets to get to class, to the house where my first boyfriend lived, to drive aimlessly through the night when stress and anxiety was too much to bear. Yola’s music takes me there, but in an uplifting way.
Yolanda Quartey, now simply known as Yola, was born into poverty in Bristol and lived homeless in London before finding work as a writing partner and performer with groups like Massive Attack and Phantom Limb. She embarked on her solo career in 2016, and found her way to Nashville where she met Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and partnered with him to create this body of work. Walk Through Fire, the fruits of their labor, allows Yola to display the strength in both her writing and vocal skills. It is a hypnotizing affair that is drenched in nostalgia but stays current by focusing on events Yola herself has experienced.
Faraway Look, the opening track, gives Kacey Musgrave’s Slow Burn a run for the money as far as opening tracks go. This is a grand display of the production and vocal agility to be revealed throughout the length album.
Ride Out in The Country, a pre-release track, focuses on a time when Yola was leaving an oppressive environment.
“I was in an abusive relationship a while back, so I drew on the feeling of relief and release that I had when I truly felt free.”
The heavy lyrical content lives in juxtaposition to the breezy instrumentation and production. You would almost think the song is a groovy and jaunty summer ballad, but truly it’s all about the freeing feeling of leaving a negative situation… which all completes the puzzle that ties together the lyrical content to the production style.
The title track Walk Through Fire, and album track It Ain’t Easier are both moments where the Blues take center stage. Walk Through Fire is striking because it almost recalls the vibrato and distinct vocal stylings of Tina Turner. It Ain’t Easier is a forsaken heart-wrenching story that sounds delightfully appealing due to the production styling. The moment she wails, “all you gotta do is try”, you can only help but get chills. You feel what she is singing. Both tracks are standouts that I keep revisiting and unraveling, causing me to fall deeper in love with each minute.
The album ends on an optimistic note with Love Is Light, a whimsical and romantic moment where the tender, softer side of Yola’s passionate and strong vocals take center stage. The horn section mixed with the grand, but ethereal instrumentation drift the album off into the perfect end.
It’s quite early in the year, but I am calling it: this album will be featured in many Top Of 2019 album lists. It will definitely be on mine. From the instrumentation that calls for grand live performances, to the lyrical and vocal strengths Yola displays throughout the record, Walk Through Fire is an album everyone should pay attention too. Critics have all been applauding the sensational album, and it brings me joy to see this type of attention going to someone who is diversifying a genre that has always leaned to the whiter side of skin color – but let’s not sour this moment with such a tense conversation. Let’s give Yola what she deserves – all of our attention.