If you were to judge a book by the cover, you might expect Yola to be some kind of R&B artist. But when you listen to Walk Through Fire, you’ll hear an artist who has listened and learned from Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton as much as she’s listened and learned from Etta James and Tina Turner. Yola is a country music singer and working with Dan Auerbach as producer, she is able to showcase her strengths as both a singer and as a songwriter. A woman who has lived the songs she sings, Yola hails from the United Kingdom but this is no British take on country music but rather a Southern country/soul album. There’s an impressive amount of guest musicians including iconic Nashville studio aces like Russ Pahl, Gene Chrisman, Stuart Duncan, Charlie McCoy, and Bobby Wood. Vince Gill appears on “Keep Me Here” and bluegrass aces Ronnie McCoury, Stuart Duncan and Molly Tuttle join on the title track.
That title track is a classic country ballad lyrics ripped straight from Yola’s life and it might vocally recall Tina Turner a bit but it’s also country to the bone. “Faraway Look,” which opens the album, is a power ballad to be sure but when you sing like Yola, the lyrics about romantic unsteadiness strikes close to the bone for anyone who has been through the touch and go nature of some relationships. “Love All Night (Work All Day)” is all about enjoying life, no matter how hardscrabble of a life it may be. “Lonely The Night” joins “Faraway Look” as one of the album’s best tracks and one of her biggest vocal showcases. It’s classic countrypolitan production and vocal acrobatics at its best. The laid back “Ride Through The Country” and “Keep Me Here” show how smooth Yola’s vocal is with the latter getting a nice assist from Vince Gill’s iconic harmony vocals.
There’s not a chance that this record ends up on the mainstream’s radar but it most-definitely should. Yola is a star and should be one of country music’s biggest and brightest ambassadors for what the genre can do in being both retro and modern at the same time. I can’t wait to hear what she comes up with next.