Yola has amazing timing. Just after her 2019 debut, Walk Through Fire, made an indelible mark on the Americana world, the lack of stage and airtime for Black women in country music became a huge topic among the true artists of Nashville, in large part because women like Yola herself had proven they belonged (and then some). After spending the past two years guesting with the Highwomen, racking up Americana and Grammy noms, and generally being omnipresent and fantastic, the British singer is releasing her second album, Stand for Myself (Easy Eye Sound). The new record is bigger and bolder, in both sound and subject matter, and it represents a new age in roots music.
Walk Through Fire was an (excellent) personal record that meandered around the country soul neighborhood. Stand by Myself chooses to play things much looser when it comes to genre, but the overall feel is old-school soul mixed with protest songs and late-night jams. “Barely Alive” (written with Joy Oladokun and the album’s producer, Dan Auerbach) may not have been originally intended as an emergence from our COVID-enshrouded world, but it reads like someone (everyone) struggling to make it through spring of 2020 – “Isolated, we hold in our tears/And we try/To get by/But we’re barely alive.” The organ-driven tune picks up as Yola’s voice soars, cajoling us to move on – “When will you start living/Now that you’re survived.”
While that debut record was more personalized, Stand for Myself finds Yola realizing the outsized power in her words.. “Diamond Studded Shoes,” written with Auerbach, Hemby and indie country superstar Aaron Lee Tasjan, starts off like a lazy Southern jam but quickly sets its sights on the gulf between the haves and have-nots – “They buy diamond studded shoes with our taxes/Anything to keep us divided.” No kumbaya moment for her – Yola wants action: “We know it isn’t, it ain’t gonna turn out right…and that’s why we gots to fight.” It’s a protest song with a catchy-as-hell chorus.
If it’s gorgeous love-and-longing songs that had you falling for Yola, though, you won’t be lost here. “Starlight” is all of that, with some late-night lust mixed in – “Taking your time and I’ll sip my wine while I wait/Don’t be late” (one does NOT leave Yola waiting long). “Whatever You Want” is a nod back to the country-tinged tunes on Fire, complete with steel guitar, backing vocals from the McCrary Sisters, and love denied – “Whatever you want, I can’t give.”. And “Break the Bough” is an uptempo, horn-punched rocker that features Yola’s most cut-loose vocals on the record. The title track, which closes the album, brings all of the album’s charms (Yola’s passion, more McCrary sisters, a signature guitar line from Auerbach) together in an urgent, bust-out-of your shell anthem – “I used to be nothing like you/I used to feel nothing like you/Now I’m alive.” It’s the sound of a singer embracing the power that her voice and words carry. Come to think of it, maybe it’s not so much Yola’s fortunate timing as much as time following Yola.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Break the Bough” – It’s a brassy, sweaty show-stopper.
Stand for Myself was produced by Dan Auerbach, recorded and engineered by M. Allen Parker, mixed by Parker and Auerbach and mastered by Alan Silverman. Songs were written by Yola and co-writers Auerbach, Joy Oladokun, Natalie Hemby, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Ruby Amanfu, Paul Overstreet, Bobby Wood, John Bettis, Liz Rose, Patrick James McLaughlin and Hannah Vansanth. Additional musicians on the album include Sam Bacco (percussion), Tom Bukovac (electric guitar, acoustic guitar), Aaron Frazer (drums), Nick Movshon (bass), Ray Jacildo (organ, vibraphone, glockenspiel, harpsichord, mellotron, Juno synthesizer, AceTone), Russ Pahl (electric guitar, steel guitar, acoustic guitar), Mike Rojas (piano, clavinet, vibraphone, glockenspiel, Juno synthesizer, Fender Rhodes piano, AceTone), Billy Sanford (electric guitar), Bobby Wood (Wurlitzer electric piano), Andy Gabbard (background vocals), Matt Combs (strings), Raymond Mason (horns), Nick Movshon (bass), Russ Pahl (electric guitar, fuzz bass), Ashley Wilcoxson (background vocals), Brandi Carlile (background vocals) and Dan Dugmore (steel guitar).
Order Stand for Myself, out July 30, here: https://store.easyeyesound.com/collections/yola-stand-for-myself
Find Yola on tour here: https://www.iamyola.com/#tour