Yola has received acclaim from both the UK and US Americana awards. I imagine Stand For Myself will walk the 2022 awards, although Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby will offer stiff competition. Both, coincidentally, appear on the record. Brandi sings on Be My Friend – written with Ruby Amanfu – and If I Had To Do It All Again and Now You’re Here had Hemby in the room.
The vocal on that last song is spellbinding, a song of passion and tenderness, with Dan’s guitar working its magic whenever Yola isn’t singing. It’ll prompt her fans to cuddle their loved one. Like A Photograph comes a close second in the vocal performance stakes; before Yola takes on the role of Sister Rosetta in the new Elvis Presley biopic with Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, make sure you get in there before the masses.
I recommend a track-by-track guide to the album by Yola herself which she conducted with Stereogum. Yola talked about how she used to be a doormat but now stands up for herself. She performed the title track of her album Stand For Myself (another Hemby co-write) on The Late Show. There was one phrase near the end of the song where she seemed uninhibited, throwing herself into the performance and using every word against her as a strength. Dan Auerbach believes in her talent, signing her to his Easy Eye Sound label, and late-night music bookers love her too.
This album could have come out in 1975 or 1995; it’s timeless, influenced by the likes of Mary J Blige and Annie Lennox and full of ad-libs. Diamond-Studded Shoes is a political tune which took Theresa May’s footwear as inspiration and Aaron Lee Tasjan is a fine co-writer here. Liz Rose, best known for being Taylor Swift’s early collaborator, was in the room for Break The Bough, a farewell to her late mother and Yola’s Barbadian heritage and the Windrush generation. On a country album no less!!
As for Whatever You Want, I played it again instantly because it’s the best thing on the album: a rollicking pop song which sounds effortless and classic, as if written by a Graham Nash or Neil Young. There are also handclaps. Yola performed this even before her first record came out so she’s had it in her locker. What else is in there?!
In the UK, we sent her off by not listening closely enough, probably because there wasn’t a place to put a black Dolly Parton acolyte who sounds like Mavis Staples but grew up in Bristol and was the uncredited voice in the middle of Blind Faith, a huge dance track. We’re idiots. Yola is a megastar and this album puts her heart, soul and mind into music.
It will take an exceptional album to knock this off the perch as my favourite of 2021.