Yola has one of the most magnificent voices in modern music. Though she’s often labeled as a contributor to the Americana genre, the British artist knows her way around groovy disco beats, funky R&B rhythms, and gospel-infused ballads. Hearing her voice from the stage will bring you to your knees with tears in your eyes before uplifting you to an irresistible dance party.
Yes, Yola is a rare vocal talent and beyond her commanding serenades is a masterful songwriter. During the Sept. 13 stop at Thalia Hall in Chicago – where she previously played back in January of 2020 – Yola and her band blew fans away with their musicianship while still taking time out to spotlight the music and lyrics that somehow get overlooked.
After kicking things off with “Barely Alive,” “Starlight,” and “Dancing Away the Tears” – which had everyone in the venue moving – Yola, invited fans to kick-back with the sultry slow-burner “Now You’re Here.”
“The next song I’m gonna do is a song about allyship. It starts with the words, ‘No thanks will come your way,’” said Yola introducing the Stand for Myself track “Be My Friend.” “It starts with those words for a very specific reason because if you’re gonna be treating a human like a human, you shouldn’t be waiting for a high five.”
The crowd erupted in cheers at that statement as Yola continued, with dry delivery, to explain that venturing out of the primordial goo to join the rest of humanity is not a high-fiveable achievement.
Midway through the show, Yola gave a glimpse into her songwriting process explaining how she doesn’t get to talk about it as often as she likes because, as a woman in the world of music, two other topics take over the conversation.
“I don’t always end up talking about my writing. My voice is always dominating the conversation,” she said adding with a laugh that she’s simply “good at her job.” She continued, “And then there’s the whole hoo-ha thing. Ugh, I can’t really equate like hoo-ha and the whole agency thing it’s really confusing.”
She proceeded to invite fans into her living room – where she typically writes on her couch in a onesie with snacks on hand – for a stripped-down interlude of “Whatever You Want” and “Shady Grove.” “Faraway Look” and “Diamond Studded Shoes” were further stand-outs of the set as were a few covers that Yola truly made her own including Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love.”
Earlier in the night, Peter One shared an intimate set to open the show highlighting material from his upcoming album.
Yola’s voice will make you stop in your tracks, but it’s her incredible songwriting that touches your soul and transports you on a journey through genres of the past and a few that are yet to be defined. With two albums under her belt she already has multiple Grammy nominations. Time will tell what type of magic she will create next.
(Photos by Laurie Fanelli)