Yola: Walk Through Fire (Easy Eye Sound)

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Shady Grove
Yola: Walk Through Fire (Easy Eye Sound)

The backstory behind Bristol-raised Yolanda Quartey is worth hearing, she's the mid-Thirties singer whose debut album here announces a major talent.

She'd grown up with a family which struggled, had been briefly without a place to stay in her early Twenties, sang with a country-rock band, was a backing singer with Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers, Katy Perry and others in the UK . . . but found her musical home in Nashville singing country-soul and being recorded here by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys who brought in some stellar, supportive players like Vince Gill.

As a black woman singing country-soul – sometimes billed in reviews as “alt.country” – she was bound to get noticed, but this exceptional debut keeps the attention the whole way.

It's one of those Dusty in Memphis-type stories, the British singer who finds their true soul when given the chance outside of Britain.

There are powerful country ballads here among these 12 songs but also assertive statements of self-empowerment, gospel-style testifying and sensuality, and songs which sound like they were minted decades ago (Shady Grove).

It's a rare album which evokes Memphis soul (and a little Philly on Still Gone) and the Take It Easy-Eagles without a detectable hint of compromise in either, a collection where the vocal power can lift the roof of the church or be as intimate as a song around the kitchen table.

She can be as mainstream as Dolly Parton (Deep Blue Dream) or as earthy as hurting Dusty (the soaring ballad Faraway Look).

It has taken Yola a while to get here, but with this album she has arrived. 

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