You’d be forgiven for thinking Yola is from the American South. But singer, songwriter and multiple Grammy nominee (including four nods in the Americana category) actually hails from Bristol, England. She recorded her debut Walk Through Fire with Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach for his Easy Eye Sound label, garnering much love and acclaim, as well as those Grammy noms. Now her path leads her to her debut taping for Austin City Limits, which doubles as our first taping for Season 46, live streamed around the world.
The singer and her band took the stage and immediately began “Lonely the Night,” a midtempo bit of melancholy that near-perfectly inhabits the midpoint between soul and country – a sweet spot Yola owns. Donning her acoustic guitar, Yola’s vision further crystallized in follow-up “Ride Out in the Country,” one of the tunes that brought her to the public’s attention (as evidenced by the crowd’s enthusiasm), and given a tight, simmering reading here. “Shady Grove” took a more relaxed route, alluding to the folk music from which the title is adapted. Her album’s title track came next, with Yola sharing the story of its surprising inspiration: a house fire in which she was caught, which she remarkably translated into a smoldering love song with the help of Auerbach and legendary songwriter Dan Penn. She went back to folk rock for “Love All Night (Work All Day),” a tribute to doing what’s necessary to sustain one’s passion. Acknowledging the inspiration of Graham Nash and the Hollies, she then injected a dollop of soul into the Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe,” ironically a song on which Nash himself did not perform. The audience loved it anyway. “That was fun, wasn’t it?” she teased.
Yola put down her guitar for “Faraway Look,” perhaps her most well-known hit (so far), giving the ballad the full force of her magnificent voice. After introducing the band, she sang the upbeat, uplifting “Love is Light” and the sadder (but still upbeat) “Still Gone.” Yola then flipped her back pages for the rocking “What You Do,” a track from her 2016 debut EP Orphan Offering. “It Ain’t Easier” followed, a powerhouse ballad that once again unleashed her full vocal power. Yola and her group closed the main set with a song by “my all-time hero,” Elton John – namely the grand ballad “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which was unsurprisingly right up her alley. The crowd sent her off with a huge roar of applause.
Needless to say, Yola wasn’t done quite yet. She and the band came back onstage with “I Don’t Wanna Lie,” an old-fashioned soul groover that became an audience singalong. She brought the show home with Aretha Franklin’s explosive take on the classic Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell tune “You’re All I Need to Get By.” The audience went wild once again, as Yola walked off in triumph. It was a great show and a great season debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.