By Bliss Bowen
YOLA, Stand for Myself (Easy Eye): 4
Reteamed with producer/guitarist Dan Auerbach, the inspiring diva expands on the country soul of 2019’s triumphant “Walk Through Fire” with a dynamically arranged set that romps through ’70s-style soul, pop, country, gospel and disco. Robust yet sensitive, Yola is in glorious vocal form, making the most of the hopeful melodies of standouts such as “Starlight,” “Be My Friend” (featuring Brandi Carlile), the title track and bouncy single “Diamond Studded Shoes” (“We are the poor ones/ Rowing up against the tide/ Burning our reserves of courage/ And working just to make it alright”). A keeper.
NOBODY’S GIRL, Nobody’s Girl (Lucky Hound): 3
The Austin-based singer-songwriter trio’s long-awaited debut full-length delivers hummable melodies, clever writing and soaring harmonies from Grace Pettis, Rebecca Loeb and Betty Soo. One of two songs reprised from their 2018 EP “Waterline,” “What’ll I Do” (“My friends wouldn’t give us a green light/ And I wanna floor it”) sounds like it’s gunning for the country-pop market, with its thrumming guitars and slick, drum-driven production, while “Tiger” braids rock, hip-hop and folk around a catchy hook. Heartfelt covers of Eliza Gilkyson’s folk troubadour anthem “Beauty Way” and Carole King’s “So Far Away” salute door-opening forebears, but originals such as “Promised Land” and the keenly observed, abuse-themed “Birthright” show the trio at their high-spirited best.
DURAND JONES & THE INDICATIONS, Private Space (Dead Oceans/Colemine): 4
The retro soul ensemble’s antidote for 2020 is playful soul, funk and disco. Jones’ vocal warmth and drummer Aaron Frazer’s swoony falsetto are buffed by glossy harmonies from Brooklyn R&B pals 79.5 as disco drumbeats, electronic keyboards, Joel Ross’ vibraphone and an eight-piece string section sustain a feel-good ’70s vibe, particularly during lead single “Witchoo,” the smoothly seductive “Ride or Die” and “The Way That I Do.” But it isn’t all escapism. Jones’ conscience joins the heart on his sleeve for “Love Will Work It Out:” “Watching modern-day lynching’s in the streets that I call home/ I felt so helpless in the strife/ But I knew I had to trust the faith that love will make it right.”
TORRES, Thirstier (Merge): 3
Recorded at a UK studio last fall, Mackenzie Scott’s fifth foray as Torres upends the surreality of pandemic life to envision a world ungoverned by mortality, time or the daily grind. It sounds like a gentle dream, but the musical landscape Scott constructs with her lean band reverberates with squawling guitars, synths and drumbeats slamming against hard surfaces. Opener “Are You Sleepwalking?” extracts comfort from weirdness and sustained contact, a love connection that also fuels “Drive Me” and “Keep the Devil Out:” “Tomorrow we rise/ From our deep-sea slumber/ Makes ourselves a new world order/ I have got all the hope I need.”