Ever since the release of her first solo album, 2019's Walk Through Fire, British country singer Yola has been the subject of widespread critical acclaim. Her records blend the evocative storytelling of traditional folk and country with syncopated rhythms of R&B and ornate arrangements of mid-20th century countrypolitan music.
At live shows, she’s held audiences rapt with her powerful voice and commanding stage presence. In just a few short years, she's racked up a lengthy list of accomplishments and recorded some landmark collaborations. She was one of the standout artists at the 2019 Newport Folk Festival, where she performed alongside country legend Dolly Parton and indie-folk standouts Dawes. Yola is credited as an unofficial member of The Highwomen -- alongside Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires -- and is featured on two tracks from the supergroup's 2019 self-titled debut album.
At this year's Grammy Awards, Yola's 2021 record Stand for Myself is up for Best Americana Album, while her track "Diamond Studded Shoes" is nominated for Best American Roots Song.
As Yola continues her headlining Stand 4 Myself Tour across the U.S., let’s take a look back at some of her best songs, including some you’ve likely heard on the radio, and a few you might have missed.
Here are The Boot's picks for Yola's top 10 songs, so far:
"Walk Through Fire"From: 'Walk Through Fire' (2019)
On the title track from her debut LP, Yola tells listeners about the long road that led to her first album. The lyrics describe a devastating house fire that Yola survived; her songwriting was a way for her to gain perspective and move forward from this experience. The bluegrass arrangement buttresses her powerful vocal, and her direct singing style showcases how she’s gotten through some scary experiences and seen the other side.
"Love All Night (Work All Day)"From: 'Walk Through Fire' (2019)
This propulsive single offers up a new spin on the country work song. The insistent beat and hummable melody gets listeners singing along, while Yola’s clear-eyed lyrics take a hopeful perspective on the labor issues that have plagued our country over the past few years.
"Shady Grove"From: 'Walk Through Fire' (2019)
Yola recalls early Dolly Parton on this bucolic album track from Walk Through Fire. Delicate fingerpicked guitar and fairytale strings give the song a soothing feel, and Yola’s lullaby-like vocals contrast with the melancholy tale she tells.
"Lonely the Night"From: 'Walk Through Fire' (2019)
Yola’s music has a protean attitude towards genre, blending soulful vocals and country arrangements with the candor of singer/songwriter lyrics. On “Lonely the Night,” she brings her eclectic sensibility to a song that recalls 1960s girl groups as much as the girl singers of mid-century country music. The swaying rhythm will make you want to slow dance with your sweetie, while Yola’s wistful vocals will make you feel her solitude.
"If I Had to Do It All Again"From: 'Stand For Myself' (2021)
A theme of friendship and community runs through Yola’s songs. On “If I Had to Do It All Again,” she writes about the loneliness of the road from the perspective of a musician whose success has walled her off from her friends. The regret is palpable in Yola’s unfussy vocal performance, and the arrangement goes from spare and haunting on the verses to big and expressive on the chorus in a way that sounds like the song is bursting into Technicolor after a long drought.
"What You Do"From: 'Orphan Offering' (EP) (2016)
Before collaborating with producer Dan Auerbach, Yola self-released the EP Orphan Offering, which found the singer in a stripped-down, more standard roots light. “What You Do” puts her powerful vocals and hard-won joy against a spare backdrop of fiddle and palm-muted guitar. While Yola has taken a more restrained approach to singing on her albums, this song finds her cutting loose with big, gospel-inflected vocals.
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"From: 'Walk Through Fire' (Deluxe Edition) (2019)
Glam rock and country music have sometimes made strange bedfellows — The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, anyone? — and Yola brings her signature vocal flair to this straightforward cover of Elton John’s signature song. You can hear her love for this tune in her ebullient vocal delivery, and some of the sadder lines in the song (“I’m not a present for your friends to open”) sound more poignant in this version.
"Be My Friend"From: 'Stand For Myself' (2021)
Yola is rightly known for her more upbeat material, but she shines just as brightly on slower, more ruminative songs. This swinging variation on the power ballad finds the singer calling out to a friend who’s struggling. The subtle arrangement puts Yola’s compassionate vocals at the center of the song, and Americana star Brandi Carlile’s backing vocals give the song a warm sense of camaraderie.
"Diamond Studded Shoes"From: 'Stand For Myself' (2021)
After all the crises of the past two years, we all need a spot of hard-won joy. On “Diamond-Studded Shoes,” Yola takes a clear-eyed look at what led us to where we are now: "They buy diamond studded shoes with our taxes / Anything to keep us divided.”
This might be a discouraging insight, but Yola’s rousing call to fight “for the life and the soul and the world we know” will inspire listeners to march in the street… or at least sing and dance along.
"I Don’t Wanna Lie"From: 'Walk Through Fire' (2019)
Country music listeners first heard Yola on this funky, well-orchestrated song about balancing love with life on the road. The catchy chorus — which opens the song — and the well-placed backup singers will make you want to sing along, but the song’s contrasts make it a compelling listen. Yola knows her way around a buoyant melody, and the contemplative lyrics and the catch in her voice as she tries to figure out her romance at home jump out against the cheery up-tempo tune and the bright, horn-driven production.