Yola: Stand For Myself (Easy Eye Sound/digital outlets)

 |   |  2 min read

Yola: Stand For Myself (Easy Eye Sound/digital outlets)
When Belfast-born Van Morrison relocated to the US in the late 60s he said, “I'm into a completely different thing now, there is no limit to what I can do”.

The result was his seminal 1968 Celtic soul album Astral Weeks, much of which drew on his past seen from a physical and emotional distance.

For many artists, a new location can mean the opportunity for a new direction: American Jimi Hendrix reinventing rock in a more receptive London; Dusty Springfield finding her mature soul spirit in Memphis; David Bowie in austere Berlin (whose Low album included the instrumental A New Career in a New Town) and most recently Blondie collaborating with Cuban musicians in Havana.

Location, location, location?

Yola (Bristol-based Yolanda Quartey born to parents from Barbados) had made a decent name for herself with the local band Phantom Limb and singing with Massive Attack, Bugz in the Attic and others. But her breakthrough came in 2019 after she, in her mid-30s, went to Nashville and recorded with Dan (Black Keys) Auerbach for his Easy Eye Sound label.

The subsequent album Walk Through Fire – with superb studio musicians, Yola-Auerbach co-writing with the likes of the legendary Dan Penn – touched elements of yearning soul and country music and, like so many before her, Yola found her mature style far from home.

The album garnered three Grammy nominations in Americana and American Roots categories, and Yola herself for Best New Artist.

A commanding figure, Yola grew up with 90s Britpop but counted albums by Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin as seminal in her youth.

The modest Southern country influence she had was refined during a 2010 visit to Nashville and finding a sense of community, and specifically in songwriting sessions with Auerbach.

Her powerful, flexible voice coupled with intelligent, personal lyrics delivered a newly minted, popular classic.

Her second album Stand For Myself consolidates her achievements but with elements of Motown (Barely Alive) and Philly soul also coming through to support lyrics which are socially conscious, affirmatively uplifting about self-empowerment and also carry shadows from her past (growing up poor, relationships, the marginalised Black-British woman).

Whether it be as an intimate ballad singer (Great Divide, Like A Photograph), bringing in a little disco for Dancing Away in Tears, touching the gospel spirit or finally claiming her ground after defeats (the coiled fury of the title track), Yola again delivers an album of diverse, focused, memorable and emotionally engaging songs.

Eighteen months ago she observed of her approach, “I'm not against genres . . . I just like to move through them . . . And as freely as many other artists have been able to do over the years.”

In words echoing Morrison's, she said recently of the title track on Stand For Myself, “I'm in this moment of absolute freedom. Arriving there and feeling creatively free is how I felt about this record”.

She may be British, but Nashville is where Yola sounds creatively at home and most confident.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Music at Elsewhere articles index

Troy Kingi: Black Sea Golden Ladder (bandcamp)

Troy Kingi: Black Sea Golden Ladder (bandcamp)

With his new album Black Sea Golden Ladder, Troy Kingi turns towards the home stretch of his ambitious 10-10-10 series: 10 albums in 10 different genres in 10 years. This album... > Read more

Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires: Dereconstructed (SubPop)

Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires: Dereconstructed (SubPop)

With young bands naming for cute fluffy animals and avoiding any pretense of rock music, it's a pleasure this Alabama outfit takes Seventies' Stones, the Clash and fuzzed-up punk fury as their... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Niue, South Pacific: Front seat storyteller

Niue, South Pacific: Front seat storyteller

About 90 minutes into our drive around the island – during which he has kept up a running commentary full of digressions into local history and politics, fishing, geology and much more --... > Read more



Saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar has won and been nominated for more awards in his homeland Sweden than we could begin to count. The 35-year old helmed his own acclaimed quartet from 1998 until very... > Read more