- 12 May 19
The Main Event: Country/Soul Contender Takes The Purse
This show was originally set to take place upstairs in Whelan’s, which would have been a sight to see, but once people got to hear the splendid Walk Through Fire and went looking for tickets, a larger venue was needed. It’s still surprising that we’re in The Green Room in The Academy and given the show we get tonight, Yola is going to need more space the next time she’s in town.
Around about nine o’clock Miss Yolanda Quartey – looked fantastic in a fetching snake-skin print frock and delighted to be in “beautiful Dublin” - and her five-piece band casually take the stage. ‘Lonely The Night’ is carried along nicely by the acoustic guitar and double bass – the bassist looks great in a Ranger Rick hat – until the snare drum cracks and Yola lets loose the chorus’ roar. It’s a fine song, just like the rest of the album, but you could listen to that voice sing a cancer diagnosis and still be happy. It’s like watching a great boxer hang back, throw a few jabs and move about a bit before laying out their opponent with one punch – Yola takes it easy during the verses and then floors you with the chorus.
Donning an acoustic guitar – that is once she negotiates the strap past her marvellous looking afro which she jokes about in her engagingly easy manner - this, you feel, is a singer who’s just happy to be singing – allows the pedal steel to be introduced for ‘Ride Out In The Country’ which is followed by the almost Motown beat of ‘Still Gone’. ‘Shady Grove’ kicks off delicately and is closed out by that voice effortlessly climbing up the register.
Time for a “little bit of cover work”, Yola asks if anyone knows Aretha to whoops from the crowd. The band goes into ‘Spanish Harlem’ and you think to yourself “Janey Mac, good luck with this!” then Yola delivers the first few la, la las and everyone in the room turns grinning to the person beside them and mouths a silent “fuckin’ hell!” It is, as the actress perhaps once remarked to the bishop, a phenomenal instrument.
‘Deep Blue Dream’ brings things back to earth, showcasing her ability to sing down at the low end of the scale too, and, rather charmingly, Yola makes excuses for the out-of-tune acoustic guitar at the start of “a song for the insomniacs” ‘Rock Me Gently’ before ‘Love All Night (Work All Day)’. If you’ve heard the album at all, you already know that Yola is as much about country as soul, and it’s songs like this one that indicate there’s probably a few records from Tammy, Dolly and Loretta beside those Aretha records back in her gaff.
When she tells of how the Dans - Penn and Auerbach - ended up working on her record, you can see that Yola still can’t quite believe it. When she relates the story about being caught in a house fire, and thinking to herself as her dress started to burn that she would still take this over the misogynistic life of an abusive relationship from which she escaped, you know that the feeling expressed in ‘Walk Through Fire’ is coming from a very real place.
At this point Hot Press moved to the back, closer to the bar (No! Really? – Ed.). Luckily, Yola is to singing as the Mona Lisa is to eyes – the voice follows you around the room. Kudos to the impossibly young looking person in shorts working the faders, for the sound in the venue is particularly good. “It’s like vinyl” is the verdict from Mr White, stood beside me with the big grin. Yola closes out the set with ‘It Ain’t Easier’ and ‘Love Is Light’ – both introduced with the variations of the standard “be yourself” message – and then the one she “couldn’t leave us without” ‘Faraway Look’. Her band are fantastic and worthy of mention, especially the drummer, but that voice is such a wondrous thing that were she to stand hollering in front of lads breaking up the road with pneumatic drills at six in the morning, it would still sound sweet.
She’s in good form for the encore, enjoying a couple of drinks and digging out ‘Fly Away’ from her 2016 E.P. Orphan Offering which proves that while Dan Auerbach helped polish things up, the raw material was already there. You need something a bit special to finish out a gig like this so why not have a go at a soul version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’? And not only that, why not combine it with The Boxtops’ ‘The Letter’ as re-arranged by Joe Cocker for Mad Dogs And Englishmen? If I might return to my boxing analogy, it’s a winning combination, an uppercut followed by a haymaker. The judges’ votes are in, the decision is unanimous, Yola’s put us on the canvas. Fantastic.