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Watch Yola perform at The Current Day Party in Austin, Texas

Yola performs at The Current Day Party at Barracuda in Austin, Texas, on Friday, March 15, 2019, during the SXSW music festival.
Yola performs at The Current Day Party at Barracuda in Austin, Texas, on Friday, March 15, 2019, during the SXSW music festival.Nate Ryan | MPR

March 16, 2019

Yola Carter (Yola) spent many early years advocating for the expression of her voice's full country resonance. Carter told NPR, "A lot of that work was being this 'gun for hire,' and you'd just have to do whatever the brief said. Like, 'Okay, we're this neo-soul band so you've got to do kind of Jill Scott-esque vocals.' It's all singing work, but broad-ranging and not really me exploring who I was." Since then, the artist has found her way home to a sturdy country sound on her 2019 full-length debut, Walk Through Fire.

After leading country soul group Phantom Limb, Carter learned guitar and began producing a solo EP, 2016's Orphan Offering, which garnered attention from the U.S. Americana scene (Carter is based in Bristol) and landed her a spot in Nashville's Americana Fest. Around this time she caught the attention of Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, and recorded Walk Through Fire in his studio along with a star-studded cast of producers whose credits range from Elvis Presley to Aretha Franklin tracks.

These influences are heavy on Walk Through Fire, and Carter has an exceptional talent for expressing emotional expanses bundled in the minutiae of everyday life. Her melodies are rooted in folk, country, and classic pop and are buoyed by her raw vocal power, which can be both sweeping as it is on "Lonely the Night," and more roosty like on "Love All Night (Work All Day)," both of which herald traditional country themes of love, loss, and working hard.

The album's title is both a reference to when Carter's house was lost in a fire, as well as her experience with an abusive partner. Its soulful down-tempo title track is a brave declaration of her intent to face challenges head-on, and a wish to do so with a love "like a rescue vessel" by her side. "I gotta walk through the fire, I gotta deal with desire," she sings. "I know you're gonna make it right; I know you're gonna save my life."

Carter is a powerful talent, made more powerful still by her willingness to express a need for an element of vulnerability in love. "That's the thing that feels satisfying to me, is to be able to be that vulnerable, out loud as a black woman," Carter told NPR. "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.'"

     – Lydia Moran

Song By Song

Songs Performed

"Ride Out in the Country"
"Still Gone"
"Walk Through Fire"
"Love All Night (Work All Day)"
"Shady Grove"
"It Ain't Easier"
"Faraway Look"
All songs from Yola's 2019 album, Walk Through Fire, available on Nonesuch Records.

Video Credits

Video Director: Erik Stromstad
Camera operators: Mary Mathis, Brett Baldwin
Audio: Veronica Rodriguez

Yola - official site