For those who expected time travel to be possible by now, Walk Through Fire, the debut album by British singer Yola, will not be a disappointment. Together with Black Keys front man Dan Auerbach, the vocal prodigy lets her voice glister on the twelve country soul tracks, transporting listeners straight back to the peak of the genre in the 1960s.
It is unsure whether the voice of this woman or her back-story is more impressive. Growing up with unsupportive parents Yola was not allowed to practice music, went through a phase of stress related voice loss, watched her kitchen blow up in a house fire, and even lived on the street for a while. Then her musical career jump-started with a spot at the Nashville Americana Music Festival and Conference in 2016. After lending her voice to the Brit icons Massive Attack, amongst others, as a background singer, Yola finally decided to create music of her own and took the spotlight by scoring Auerbach to produce and support her album.
Now we get to listen to the gem. From the first time Yola opens her mouth and sings on “Faraway Look” it is clear that we are dealing with a special vocal presence here. The slow soul-influenced track smoothly runs along while her glorious voice takes centre stage on this orchestral epic. It might remind one of the gospel greats like Dusty Springfield or Aretha Franklin – whose former drummer Gene Chrisman, by the way, also lent his talents to this project. The weightless feeling of the 70s style soft rock on “Ride Out In the Country” violently opposes to the sinister end of the video, where the singer buries two bodies translating her breakout of an oppressive environment into images.
The title track features folky strings and bluesy harmonica tunes while Yola sings in a rich honey like voice referencing her breakout of an abusive relationship. The emotive lyrics speak of sharp songwriting, elegantyly balancing between vulnerability and empowerment. The heart aching ballad “Deep Blue Moon” is followed by up-beat 50s soul tracks like “Still Gone” displaying the wide range of emotions that Yola poured onto her debut record.
On Walk Through Fire Yola works through her troublesome past and severs to inspire and encourage the listeners. The album shines with its sonic palette, fusing folk, Americana, country, and 70s soft rock to twelve eclectic and well done tracks, but it is Yola’s warm and caressing voice that truly convinces.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Walk Through Fire is out on Friday the 22nd of February.