Stand for Myself reflects Yola’s next phase of healing after her debut, a sophomore effort that is equally confident and vulnerable.
Stand for Myself is only the second album released by Yola, the British country-roots maven, Nashville transplant, and sometimes Highwoman. And yet, it’s cast as something of a rebirth, which the singer makes explicit in the album-ending title track: “Now I’m alive, it’s hard to explain / It took this much time, and took this much pain.” Indeed, Yola’s travails were already well-documented on her sensational debut, Walk Through Fire, many of its songs set in the aftermath of an abusive relationship and a literal house fire. But if that album was about surviving with optimism still in tact, Stand for Myself feels like a notable leap forward in the healing process. It’s an album about reclaiming yourself; about finding your voice; about using harrowing experiences as catalysts for advocacy and compassion. Come to think of it, the album would make a great double feature with Outside Child, a similarly courageous album from Yola’s housemate and collaborator, Alison Russell.
Yola’s emboldened songwriting is mirrored in the album’s production. Once again working with Dan Auerbach, Stand for Myself feels like an assured, purposeful, and lovingly stylized update on Walk Through Fire’s country-pop. Basically, this is roots music with an extra heap of glitter: “Dancing Away in Tears” is languid after-hours disco, while “Starlight” is a full-on soul diva turn. There are also turns into cocksure British invasion pop (“Whatever You Want”) and jubilant dance music (“Diamond Studded Shoes,” the irresistible lead single). Even the more skeletal moments, like the haunted “Barely Alive,” are full of sparkling percussion and lonesome organ moans, landing it on the same astral plane as Kacey Musgraves’ spacey psychedelia. It’s a testament to Yola’s porous, bracingly inclusive definition of roots music, as well as an absolute triumph of studio musicianship; Auerbach’s session pros fill every nook and cranny of this record with glorious texture and lockstep rhythms, sounding as tight as any working band. Few albums make studio craft sound so opulent, so pleasurable, and Yola rises to the occasion not just with a full-tilt vocal performance, but with songs of striking emotional directness. She sings about friendship (“Be My Friend”), breakups (“Dancing Away in Tears”), and self-reliance (“Stand for Myself”). If individual songs sometimes feel lyrically sparse, the musicianship makes them sound rich and full; and together, they add up to a portrait of the artist who is confident and vulnerable in equal measure.
Published as part of Album Roundup — July 2021 | Part 3.