Sign up for newsletter
 

Grammy nominations aside, Yola, Kiah are the real deal

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., January 7, 2020

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Grammy nominations do not make the artist, but Yola and opener Amythyst Kiah underscored time and again on this night that the honors were well deserved.

In fact, Yola and Kiah's other group, Our Native Daughters, are nominated in the same category - Best American Roots. Yola has three other nominations as well.

The clear winners live, though, were those in the sold-out crowd.

Yola is the British singer, who cuts the difference between country leaning melodies and soul. She meandered easily between the musical styles, starting off with more of the Americana and country sounding songs (often thanks to the licks of her guitarist). "Shady Grove" was a particular highlight.

But she certainly was more than comfortable with the soulful and R&B melodies as well, letting her expressive voice shine. Highlights included the soaring vocals on "Faraway Look."

A warmer performer, who easily interacted with the crowd, scored on covers towards the end of the night. Yola recorded Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and gave the song about a preference for the rural life a hard edge.

For the encore, she took the bard Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" and quickly segued into Joe Cocker's version of "The Letter" before ending the night with here take on Dan Auerbach's "Stand By My Girl." Yola made all of them work.

Style didn't matter for Yola. Not when you have her vocal abilities.

The night indicated that her standout effort at the 2019 Newport Folk Festival, where she was the star of the fest, was no fluke.

Kiah scored big time on her opening set. Kiah, who headlined in July at the Museum of Fine Arts, has grown considerably. She played solo acoustic this time around, and the lack of a band didn't seem to matter.

Like Yola, the power of Kiah lies within her vocal delivery. She lives the songs through her singing, such as on "The Worst," which she described as a love song. True, but that's not the kind of love that most people would be looking for.

Fortunately, Kiah also displayed a sense of humor.

Kia closed with "Black Myself," the Grammy-nominated hit she wrote and recorded for Our Native Daughters. There was a lot of power not only in the words, but Kiah's reading of the song. She received and deserved a big hand from the crowd.

Grammy nominations are nice and all, but there's nothing like the real deal, something Kiah and Yola had in spades.