It is rare when a new release catches me totally off guard with such an engaging emotional appeal and captivating nostalgic nuances.
“Walk Through Fire” is a career-defining album that will soon make Yola a household name. The British singer-songwriter’s full-length debut captures elements of country, R&B and gospel for one delicious blending of pure country-soul that speaks directly from the heart.
After overcoming numerous personal struggles, Yola boldly walks through the hot coals as the 35-year-old’s commanding voice narrates stirring stories of tragedy and perseverance.
The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach oversees the production duties and assembles a stellar group of session musicians to set the compelling material’s alluring tone. Auerbach also contributes musically on guitar, dobro, bass, percussion and backing vocals as well as helping to co-write 11 of the album’s 12 tracks.
The set opens with the soaring ballad “Faraway Look.” Yola’s voice dreamily navigates the haunting mood of this sad tale about a fading love and the memories that refuse to go away quietly with a breathtaking performance that sets the stage for the stunning songs to follow.
“Ride Out in the Country” serves as the album’s signature number with a country charm that faintly disguises the tale about needing a diversion from the current conditions by unloading some emotional baggage left behind from a crumbling courtship. Yola describes the complexity of falling out of love with someone as she sings, “I take a ride out in the country/In the soft summer breeze/Forgettin’ about you/Forgettin’ about me.”
“It Ain’t Easier” is a soulful declaration of the work it takes to keep love strong over the years. Everyone can fall in love, but not everyone can keep the commitment strong as life provides daily obstacles set to derail the best of intentions. The fiddle and steel guitar add a soothing foundation as Yola proclaims, “I’ll work every day/Thinking of ways/To make you smile.”
Country superstar Vince Gill makes a guest appearance on “Keep Me Here” with backing vocals on yet another tender love confessional that is filled with the pain and loneliness left behind when promises are broken and simply holding on to hope becomes a monumental task to perform.
The memorable set closes on a promising note as love finally appears to arrive on “Love Is Light.” Yola sounds at peace and ready to move forward as she sings, “Maybe this is a blessing/Being here in the twilight of magical times/To walk beside you.”
I know it is early, but it is this critic’s opinion that Yola’s latest effort is the current frontrunner for album of the year.
Clint Rhodes is the Herald-Standard music reviewer. He can be reached at email@example.com.