A beguiling amalgam of vintage country-soul, R&B, and classic pop arrangements, British singer/songwriter Yola earned widespread critical accolades for her 2016 solo EP Orphan Offering. Born Yolanda Quartey, the Bristol-based artist initially cut her teeth through wide-ranging work as a U.K. session singer, then as the frontwoman for Americana band Phantom Limb before establishing herself as a solo artist with 2019′s Grammy-nominated, Dan Auerbach-produced Walk Through Fire. A follow-up, Stand for Myself, appeared two years later.
Growing up in Bristol, Quartey used music as a means of escape from an often-tumultuous childhood and family life. Early on, her tastes veered toward the vintage American soul and roots music of acts like Otis Redding and the Staple Singers, although her initial experience came from working with contemporary U.K. artists. She was barely out of school when she began touring with London DJ collective Bugz in the Attic, and she later did stints with Massive Attack. By 2004, she’d become a fairly established session singer with support and touring credits that included the McCrary Sisters, James Brown, and the Stax Band.
Around this time, she helped form the Bristol-based country-soul band Phantom Limb, with several other working session players who were all similarly eager to have their own band. While continuing to record and tour with others, Quartey and Phantom Limb released a self-titled LP in 2008 and managed to do a fair amount of touring in support of it. A 2009 live album and 2012 studio follow-up, The Pines, helped to bolster the band’s visibility, but ultimately Quartey grew dissatisfied with her diminished creative role and began writing material for a solo venture.
Over the next few years, she crafted a set of deeply personal songs that pulled stylistically from Muscle Shoals-era country-soul, old-school R&B, countrypolitan, and classic singer/songwriter. Her 2016 solo EP, Orphan Offering, was released under the name Yola Carter by Bristol-based Ear Trumpet Music. Widely praised by critics, it eventually led her to the U.S. to work with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and his Easy Eye label. Produced by Auerbach and recorded in Nashville with a crack band of seasoned players behind her, Yola’s full-length debut, Walk Through Fire, was released in February 2019 via Easy Eye, and a earned Grammy Award nomination for Best Americana Album. That same year, she also guested on the eponymous debut by American country supergroup, the Highwomen. Resuming her collaboration with Auerbach, Yola issued her follow-up album, the critically acclaimed Stand for Myself, in July 2021. In addition to a nomination for Best Americana Album, the set received a nod for Best American Roots song for the single “Diamond Studded Shoes.” ~ Timothy Monger