Yola, "Walk Through Fire" (Easy Eye Sound)
Yola's "Walk Through Fire" is a scrumptious period piece of an album, its strings, harpsichords, steel guitars, electric pianos and harmoniums evoking the sophisticated country and soul of the late '60s of Dusty Springfield or, more recently, Nick Lowe.
The record's style is also the work of Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), who lately has done similarly successful vintage productions for Dr. John, Robert Finley and Shannon Shaw.
Recorded in Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound Nashville studio with aces (Gene Chrisman, Bobby Wood, Billy Sanford, Russ Pahl) whose resumes include a genuine roster of music legends, the songs achieve a natural dose of authenticity, even though they're originals written by Yola and Auerbach, with Wood and other collaborators.
Yola — born near the southwest English city of Bristol, a cum laude graduate of the school of hard knocks and briefly a member of Massive Attack — reveals herself to be kind of female Glen Campbell, a rhinestone cowgirl, if you will, with a similarly powerful yet effortless and honeyed voice beautifully conveying multiple shades of feeling, like on first track "Faraway Look."
The melody of "Shady Grove" has the unforced simplicity of a children's melody, but the lyrics' lament is all grown up, while "Ride Out in the Country" describes a badly needed refuge from a relationship not worth saving.
Fiddle and dobro put the title track, co-written with Dan Penn, on the country side of the scales, and "Lonely the Night" further confirms Yola's vocal talents, as does the Simply Red-like "Keep Me Here," with Vince Gill singing harmony.
A few tracks with more spirited rhythms would have made "Walk Through Fire" an even more combustive listen, but there's plenty of quality on hand and Yola is definitely a keeper.