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 frontwomen for Americana band Phantom Limb before establishing herself as a solo artist and issuing her Dan Auerbach-produced full-length debut, Walk Through Fire, in 2019.
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 vintage American soul and roots music from 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 began 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. ~ Timothy Monger