Yola hails from the United Kingdom, but there isn't a hint of Britishness on Walk Through Fire, her 2019 full-length debut. Walk Through Fire is steeped in Southern soul traditions, leaning heavily on the cross-cultural pollinations of the late '60s, where country, soul, pop, and rock intersected so thoroughly, there rarely seemed to be a boundary separating the styles. Yola follows a similar stylistic aesthetic. She's as likely to write a country song ("Walk Through Fire") as she is to testify with the passion of a gospel choir ("It Ain't Easier"), but much of her debut exists in a nuanced netherworld, where R&B tunes are given a pop treatment and vice versa. Some of this fluidity could be ascribed to producer Dan Auerbach, who cannily conjures any number of retro trappings -- not just the funky sounds of FAME, but the Baroque pop arrangements of Glen Campbell -- as he carefully avoids strict purity. Auerbach creates a lovely, enveloping sound, but he's merely picking up the soul and sensibility of Yola's original songs, which are grounded in tradition but marked with her own idiosyncratic imprint; she's channeling her own experiences so they speak to the universal, just like the classic soul she loves. The result is an extraordinary record, one designed to be part of a grand musical tradition, and it contains enough emotion and imagination to earn its place within that lineage.
Walk Through Fire Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine