Stand For Myself
Easy Eye Sound, Distributed by Concord.
I loved Yola’s 2019 debut, Walk Through Fire. It seemed to come out of nowhere – and probably arrived in front of my ears because I have a special fondness for anything that Dan Auerbach has a hand in outside of his up and down approach to making music as one half of The Black Keys. He has a pretty much perfect strike rate on his outside production duties, including some real finds. One of which is the artist born Yolanda Quartey, a British soul singer who can do anything from the disco-tinged soul of Dancing Away In Tears to country-soul weepies like Great Divide.
Here on Stand For Myself her voice does exactly that. Auerbach returns to help usher in this second album and Yola just absolutely shines. Every track a gem. So many sub-styles of soul and R’n’B, and only ever a little bit funky, never relying on lazy training wheels, rather digging deep towards vintage Ike & Tina styles (Diamond Studded Shoes), deep Billy Paul soul-balladry (Like A Photograph) and pop-inflected country-soul balladry seems to be the default setting; a gorgeous bit of slide guitar framing Starlight, something of a centre-hinge for the record.
I used to joke that whatever keeps Auerbach away from making Black Keys albums is a good thing – such was the dip in the style and feel of that band. But given the recent return-to-form there I’m back to hyping him as one of the great modern player/producer with an authentically soaked-in feel and flow for vintage sounds. He’s very nearly back to doing no wrong in my eyes and for my ears. I’m sure that would fill him with nearly as much inertia as the time I tried to have a phone interview with him.
But anyway, let’s actually celebrate Yola. For it’s her voice that is the clay here for the modelling. And the shapes her voice can stretch to reach and fill are never less than impressive and never ever forced.
Stand By Myself feels like the start of her real arrival. She’s about to be seen on screen playing Sister Rosetta Tharpe in an Elvis biopic. Maybe that’ll raise the profile even further. But ahead of that listen to the deep southern soul she effortlessly evokes on If I Had To Do It Again, Be My Friend and the title track. Subtle shifts in tone and styles across the album make each and every song feel like a new representation.
I was sold on the debut but this is that other level entirely. Great work here from her, Auerbach and a killer band.