I can quite vividly remember New Year’s Eve last year, with family members clustered around the TV set for Jools Holland’s Hootenanny and the satisfaction I had in being able to point to a rising star in the Americana genre, a musical form for whom most of those assembled had either little interest or understanding. Not surprisingly, the person in question was Yola, winner of this year’s AUK’s readers poll best UK artist and best solo artist – and 2019 has proven to be more successful for her than she could possibly have imagined.
I was reminded of that time again while watching her performance at the Easy Eye Sound Americana Revue in Nashville this September. It was fascinating to see the looks exchanged between some of those Americans in the audience who were clearly newcomers to the Yola experience as she floored them with her powerhouse vocal delivery on songs like ‘It Ain’t Easier’ and ‘Faraway Look’.
Clearly the time Yola has spent assiduously courting the US market with extensive touring (you can catch part of her TV debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! below) and the release of her debut album, ‘Walk Through Fire’, paid dividends when it was announced in November that she had been nominated for four Grammys in the categories of Best New Artist, Best American Roots Performance for ‘Faraway Look’, Best Americana Album for her LP and also Best New Artist. As if her ascension to solo artist status wasn’t enough, the Bristol born singer also got to participate this year as a featured artist in the high profile collaboration with The Highwomen as an honorary fifth member, singing from the point of view of a Civil Rights era freedom rider on the group’s eponymously self-titled song.
Neither should we forget that Yola has also been nominated for two UK Americana Awards: UK Artist of the Year and UK Album of the Year – the Americana Music Association UK (AMA-UK) having provided her with unstinting support since she first burst onto the scene in 2016.
Fast forward to the Lexington on the 4th of December, Yola’s most high profile performance to date – a sold out show where you simply felt grateful because of the realisation this was probably the last opportunity to catch her in a relatively small venue. Not even the bronchitis she was suffering from that night did anything to dampen the quality of her singing – which showed both remarkable power as well as restraint – or the enthusiasm of those in attendance.
If 2019 has been Yola’s year then 2020 only looks certain to cement her reputation as a bona fide star and potential household name.
Photos by kind permission of David Handley