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Reviews / Yola demonstrates soulful vocal prowess

Dynamic frontwoman and vocalist Yola Carter and her trio, joined by classy local fiddler Kirsten Hendry, at the Lerwick Legion on Friday night. Photo: Steven Johnson.

YOU probably could’ve heard Yola Carter’s voice from Gulberwick as she and her band gave a very special performance at the Lerwick Legion on Friday.

At heart, her music is country music, but it is not afraid to break out of restraint and show the cracks under the surface. The same could be said of her singing itself, with a range which both dives and soars effortlessly – and a voice which dominates the room. Opening her set, Home gathered fervent pace in its second half and showed the gospel and soul influences underpinning her sound.

In between a debut EP released last year, Orphan Offering, and an album currently in the works, there was plenty to savour in the first of two concerts this weekend, the second at a packed Carnegie Hall in Sandwick on Saturday night.

The excellent local fiddler Kirsten Hendry joined on a number of tunes, adding that little extra sentiment to songs like ‘Orphan Country’, which explores darker themes which Yola is no stranger to addressing

Sheila Duncan and Freda Leask and their - nameless - band delivered strong support sets on both nights. Photo: Steven Johnson.

On a BBC Radio Shetland appearance on Thursday, the singer said that her music allows her to explore her volatile and disadvantaged upbringing near Bristol. Other songs deal bluntly with problematic relationships, such as the waltzy Gaslight. Weaving this personal touch into her songs makes them all the more intense and resonant.

But there was a lot of warmth and laughter too. In between tunes the audience were amused by Yola’s ‘stream-of-consciousness’ banter and it was clear she was enjoying herself on stage. As were her two guitarists – some glistening lines on a jazz hollowbody guitar featured throughout. Their vocal harmonies, too, were spot on. There was plenty of atmosphere inside the Legion, despite the best efforts of June’s eternal daylight seeping in from outside.

A band headed up by Sheila Henderson and Freda Leask provided support, while DJ Lyall span soul hits in between sets. In the former, multiple styles were at work providing the kind of country-blues-rock they are known so well for, mixing covers in with originals. Sheila’s own Willow in the Wind, a tune from 20 years back, was a highlight.

Back to the Yola Carter Trio, featuring a few tunes from the upcoming album which put it down as one to look out for in the near future, as well as well-received covers such as Scarlet Town by folk supremo Gillian Welch, well loved by many in the audience too.

After praising those watching for being ‘lush’ – she is a West Country woman after all – there was time for one more, of course, a cover of The Band’s treasured classic The Weight, pushing Yola’s vocals to frankly scary heights, passionate down to the very last note.

Patrick Mainland