Yola - "Ride Out In The Country"
This is the easy, laid back, summer song we didn’t know we needed. It’s been a stressful few months over here. Heck, it’s been a stressful few YEARS and so when this song came on today it was just the soothing balm that our weary nerves needed. A callback to our youth in Texas and the great country/americana artists we grew up on, mixed with the sultry blues of this british soul singer has come together to make real magic with this song and this artist. If you don’t know Yola, get ready to.
It was the end of summer when Yola – or Yolanda Quartey, as she was then – fell behind on her rent. Her flatmate got sick and had to move out; Yola was 21, a young singer still finding her feet in London’s cut-throat music industry. When her landlord required her to leave, she was confident she would find someone to stay with until she landed her next job. “I knew it was going to be fine,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. “If I could just hold on a teeny bit longer.”
It wasn’t fine, though. The friends and colleagues she called were all very sorry, but taking her in wasn’t convenient. “The rejections were all very gentle, very reasonable, but ultimately I was on my own,” she says. “Then I ran out of credit on my phone, so I couldn’t call anyone.” Yola spent the next few nights sleeping on the streets.
More than a decade later, the ebullient singer-songwriter is releasing her debut album, Walk Through Fire, at the age of 35. She shrugs off her spell of homelessness with characteristic good humour. “There’s a bush in Hoxton Square, and I made a big old hole in it,” she remembers. “I was begging for food in my artsy harem pants and people were saying: ‘What are you doing here?’ And I was saying: ‘It all went wrong, my friends suck.’”
Yola’s personality fills the room, just as it fills her record – a buffet of country-soul and break-up songs, backed with fiddle, mandolin, Wurlitzer and more, and produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys on his own Easy Eye label. It isn’t just the big, blunt end of Yola’s powerhouse voice that impresses – although that gets an immediate outing in the chorus of the opening track, Faraway Look. Its real magic lies in its depths of emotion and experience, and a dynamic range that can move from comforting whisper to full-on war cry within the space of a couple of lines.
That idea–of escaping one’s past life by any means necessary–ended up serving as the central premise for the the title track of Walk Through Fire, the singer’s debut album for Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye label. Recorded in Nashville with a team of the city’s best session musicians, the record chronicles the personal and artistic rebirth that Yola has undergone over the past few years. Many of the songs, like “Shady Grove” and “Ride Out In The Country,” are belated breakup songs, addressed not only to a ex-lover but to a previous self.
Yola Carter caught the music bug as a small child growing up in a tiny seaside town in southwest England. Browsing through her mother's varied record collection, she latched onto the 1974 Dolly Parton album Jolene. It never crossed the singer's mind that that wasn't what an aspiring, young singer who happened to be black and British was supposed to be listening to and learning from in the late 1980s.
"I didn't know that that was going to be such a problem until I started trying to actually do it," she remembers. "And then people were like 'OK, now this is weird, we always thought that you'd sing R&B,' and I'm like, 'Why? My voice doesn't sound like that at all.' "
The lushly, orchestrated backing the players provided gave Carter room to stretch out vocally. "I don't want to be ever controlled down to a trope of vocal, always-loud Yola, always doing the scream rough thing," she says. "Because I can do that all day, everyday. But I want to be able to show that I have control as well and I have a soft side of my voice as well."
The virtuosic way that Carter taps into the softer, more theatrical side of classic country, soul and pop, along with the grit, isn't the expected approach in the Americana world she now calls home. But she's at the place in her career where she's not about to be boxed in.
"That's the thing that feels satisfying to me, is to be able to be that vulnerable, out loud as a black woman," she says. "To go, 'You know what? Today, I'm feeling quite like a strong black woman, but I'm not every single day, and here's how.' "
So when you wrap all this vulnerability, beauty, talent, and music into one big beautiful human, you have Yola. I am awestruck by the grace in which she has slowly risen from her beginning stumbles. She is a true inspiration.
So today, with grace and fortitude, I choose Yola's "Ride Out In The Country" as my, open up and breath, let the wind fly through your hair, remember how strong your roots are, song for a, bend but don't break, you remove the overgrown so that you can grow back stronger, lift your face to the light, Wednesday.