After cementing herself as an artist to watch with her debut record Walk Through Fire in 2019 and being nominated for four GRAMMY Awards, United Kingdom based country singer Yola is back with her highly anticipated sophomore album Stand For Myself. Throughout the new project, Yola challenges different genres and expands her already vast repertoire with infectious confidence.
The 12 song project opens with “Barely Alive,” a soulful, R&B influenced track. Yola’s entrancing vocals shine in this brazen track. The way she lets her voice build up to the chorus, is mesmerizing and keeps the attention of listeners. It also has psychedelic background vocals that sound hazy and blurred. The addition of those vocals add depth to the song. In the last chorus she exclaims passionately, “When will we start living, could you even try / When will you start living, now that you’ve survived.” It ends with one of the most haunting, yet minimalistic lines on the project, “They didn’t take your life.” “Barely Alive” is an eerie celebration of getting through the hard times.
“Dancing Away In Tears,” co-written by fellow member of The Highwomen Natalie Hemby as well as Dan Auerbach, is an upbeat, bittersweet breakup song. The use of strings, horns, and the subtle sound of bongo drums in the background make this track one of the most instrumentally interesting on the record. Beautiful yet tragic lyricism comes in the second verse, “The party is over, now we’re on the floor / You’re not mine and baby I’m not yours / I can’t go and do it all again and pretend that we were never something more.”
“Diamond Studded Shoes,” an optimistic anthem that acted as the bright lead single for the record, is followed by, “Be My Friend” that features Brandi Carlile on background vocals. “Be My Friend” almost has an innocent, simple acoustic sound to it, but when taking a look at the narrative within the lyrics, a deeper meaning is revealed. Yola sings about the importance of allyship, and how vital it is for humanity; it’s an extremely relevant subject that reflects today’s world. The most noticeable line comes as Yola states, “Hoping when they go and say our children’s names / Hoping that humanity will save them from the grave / And so I ask you won’t you be my friend.”
Track number nine titled, “Whatever You Want,” is the most country sounding effort on the album. With it’s active steel guitars that add a tinge of twang and the fun acoustic guitars, this song is a standout track. Yola’s vocals progress with the track as it grows and grows with electric guitars that come in after the second chorus and bustling drums. Her voice parallels the song’s sounds as she growls and evokes a sense of strong grit.
The two final numbers on Stand Myself act as the perfect closer for the body of work. Track 11, “Like A Photograph” hints at a slow burn relationship. The sultry instrumental with slow-paced drums and dazzling orchestral strings create a visual image of a dark room on an intimate night in as Yola says amorously, “Won’t you hold me close just like a photograph / Hoping it will last / Because soon enough it’s gonna be the past / It’s coming fast.”
The last act of Stand Myself is the mighty title track that seems to tie the project up with a bow as Yola sets out to seek vengeance. On the closer, Yola is raw, honest, vulnerable, yet powerful, sturdy, and vigorous. Through the lyrics that yell, “I was lost in the city / You could see it in my eyes / But I was still a dreamer / In the middle of the night.” One of the most powerful aspects of this song specifically is the way Yola uses her vocals to narrate the story being told. At the beginning of verse one, her voice sounds fragile and delicate. As it nears each chorus, her rage grows along with her hopefulness. Yola reclaims herself as she nears the end of the album, crying out, “I used to be nothing like you / I used to feel nothing like you / Now I’m alive, alive / I’m alive.”
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