Debut LP ‘Walk Through Fire’ was a breakthrough moment for Tennessee-based English artist Yola (real name Yolanda Quartey). After years spent as a vocalist for various bands, followed by a SOLO EP in 2016, Quartey released her critically acclaimed, three-time Grammy nominated ‘Walk Through Fire’ in 2019 and later that year contributed to two tracks on the self-titled, Grammy-winning debut album of country supergroup The Highwomen. On her sophomore project, she creates a staggeringly confident, 12-track opus that beautifully blends country and soul; always putting her powerhouse vocals at the forefront.
‘Stand For Myself’s strongest moments are the most country-tinged ones here. Country music feels like Yola’s home turf; where she effortlessly excels. ‘Be My Friend’ is an excellent soul-country highlight, with the exception of it’s chorus – composed of the slightly cliched line “Won’t you be my friend out in the rain?” – there’s some of Yola’s greatest, and darkest, lyricism here: “The fires turn to ember, but the memories remain” she sings at one point, “No medal will adorn you
No fanfare will salute your fame” and “Hoping when they go and say our children’s names
/ Hoping that humanity will save them from the grave” she sings at another. Even the chorus, where the lyricism takes a downfall, is catchy enough to make it’s shortcomings forgivable.
‘Stand For Myself’s more straightforward neo-soul moments let it done somewhat; there’s no doubting Yola’s incredible vocal abilities, but songs like ‘Dancing Away In Tears’ sound overly formulaic and borrow too heavily from the Adele blueprint. When Yola changes pace, even just momentarily, the results are joyous; like when she allows her voice to break towards the end of ‘Break The Bough’ or goes into a beautiful falsetto on ‘If I Had To Do It All Again’. Nonetheless, there are no bad moments on ‘Stand For Myself’; even the weaker moments are carried by Quartey’s powerhouse vocals and the backdrop of the timeless arrangements. A great sophomore effort and a keeper for years to come.
Best Tracks: ‘If I Had To Do It Again’, ‘Barely Alive’, ‘Be My Friend’, ‘Great Divide’
Worst Tracks: none