Among the fresh faces on the roster of Grammy Award nominees on Wednesday (Nov. 20) was British singer-songwriter Yola, whose debut album, Walk Through Fire, racked up nominations in the best new artist, best Americana album, best American roots song (“Faraway Look”) and best American roots performance (“Faraway Look”) categories.
The 35-year-old rootsy singer’s debut has garnerned widespread critical acclaim for Fire, which blends dusty soul grooves with slide guitars, fiddles, Americana roots and country accents on songs such as “Look” and “Shady Grove.”
The singer’s full-length debut was released on February, but since some of you might be discovering her for the first time now, here are five things you need to know about Yola.
Her debut is stacked with heavy hitters
Walk Through Fire was produced by Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, who released the album on his Easy Eye Records label and co-wrote the title track with legendary R&B songwriter Dan Penn (Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding. The Nashville-recorded album also features contributions from Vince Gill, Ronnie McCoury and Molly Tuttle.
She has put some serious time in on the road and in the studio
Though her name is just now starting to bubble up on some people’s tongues, Yola (born Yolanda Quartey), has been at it for more than a decade, releasing several albums with the group Phantom Limb, including their 2008 self-titled debut and the 2012 release The Pines. She also contributed focals to the title track of the debut from the country all-star group The Highwomen, singing alongside Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires. Yola worked as a lead vocalist with Massive Attack and wrote lyrics and melodies for fellow British singers Will Young (“Hopes & Fears”) and Chase & Status (“Blind Faith”), and samples of her vocals have been used on tracks for artists from Chemical Brothers to Iggy Azalea.
Her career hopes were almost dashed in 2007 when she lost her voice
The singer told NPR that she was forced to stop singing entirely for a year and a half when her voice cut out, taking it upon herself to study anatomy and come up with a custom vocal care program. “I don’t think people are aware how much fear you have when you lose your voice, that it could just go at any point,” she said. “It could be any stressful environment, and you’d have no control.” Her vocal rehab was so succesful that she’s since gone on to give lectures about her unique program.
Elton John is a big fan
“If you haven’t heard of Yola… go and see her… you’ll be delighted at what you hear,” he said on a special edition of his Rocket Hour show on Beats that also featured her fellow Highwoman Carlile.
She’s had a pretty good year on the road, with way more to come
In addition to playing the Hollywood Bowl with Lord Huron and Shakey Graves and the Newport Folk Festival, SXSW and Farm Aid, Yola has opened for Kacey Musgraves, performed with the Highwomen and Dolly Parton and will end 2019 with a performance at WFUV’s Holiday Cheer show alongside Mavis Staples and Nathaniel Rateliff at the Beacon Theater in New York (Dec. 10) and two New Year’s Eve gigs with Old Crow Medicine Show at the Ryman auditorium in Nashville. Early 2020 will include an appearance at Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend and an opening slot at Chris Stapleton’s An Outlaw State of Kind Benefit with Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow.
Check out the videos for “Ride Out in the Country” and “Shady Grove” below.