- The Magazine
Yola is an artist who revels in surprises. After the breakout success of her debut, Walk Through Fire, it was only to be expected that the British singer-songwriter was going to give us another stellar album of bluesy Americana that walks the line between soul and country. Stand for Myself (★★★★☆) is certainly that, but this time she goes a few steps further. Teaming up once again with producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Yola ups the ante by incorporating bopping ’60s and ’70s pop, twangy roots, and rich, soaring gospel into a sonically eclectic album.
Apart from the album’s more varied sound, Yola’s lyrics also come across sharp and honest, giving us a clear window into her feelings and preoccupations. Stand For Myself finds her possessed with a well-deserved confidence in her abilities and an eagerness to embrace and experience the world. She explores an impressive array of subjects, touching on sexuality with the sultry, sentimental showstopper “Starlight,” which closes out the first half of the album, to a novel take on mortality a few tracks later with the lyrically compelling and surprisingly addictive “Break the Bough.”
A defiant resilience anthem is always a welcome addition to any album, but Yola spoils us with several, from the sunny opener “Barely Alive” to “If I Had To Do It All Again” to “Be My Friend,” a celebration of camaraderie and allyship featuring background vocals from Brandi Carlile. Even “Whatever You Want,” which finds her regretfully reflecting on her choice of men, celebrates swearing off the “good old boys” who “get you begging and pleading.” Having landed a few stellar breakup songs on her last album, it’s only natural that she revisits that well too, this time with the unexpectedly bright “Dancing Away In Tears,” a soulful track wishing an old flame well without any hint of bitterness.
One of the album’s best qualities is the refreshing sense of nuance Yola brings to it. Her sharp awareness of the world’s complications is borne out in “Diamond Studded Shoes,” the first single to drop. Yola neatly packages a whole lot of societal angst into a catchy, toe-tapping number, which she offers up as a wake-up call to the “false divides created to distract us from those few who are in charge of the majority of the world’s wealth.”
Yola comes close to outright spelling out her mission statement on the magnificent title track that closes out the album. With vocals at full power over crashing electric guitars, listening to it is like hearing someone rediscovering her own majesty in real time. While she might have been timid and unsure at one point, there is no sign of that now — she has rediscovered herself and is alive and thriving in the fullest sense.
Bursting with confidence and backed by an undeniably diverse and sophisticated sound, Stand for Myself is a compelling second album that cements Yola’s place as one of the most interesting artists in the Americana scene right now.
Stand for Myself is out everywhere on July 30. Visit www.iamyola.com.
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