At the Sinclair, Yola makes a powerful impression

Yola performs at the Sinclair.
Yola performs at the Sinclair.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

CAMBRIDGE — 2019 was quite a year for British singer Yolanda Quartey, better known as Yola. She released her debut album, “Walk Through Fire,” in February, and the stunning country-soul collection was met with widespread critical acclaim and led to appearances at the Newport Folk Festival, Farm Aid, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and other choice events and to Grammy nominations for the album and the artist. Now she’s out on a sustained headlining tour, which arrived at the Sinclair for a sold-out show Tuesday.

All of that attention seems to have come as a surprise to her, and at times her stage presence on Tuesday suggested that she was still settling in to that new reality. But with a full band alongside her and a headliner’s time allotment, the show was the first chance for a Boston-area crowd to hear full-on live renditions of the songs from “Walk Through Fire” (she played in stripped-down mode at Newport in July), and Yola delivered that in spades. She played 10 of the album’s 12 songs, among them the soulful groove of "Lonely the Night,” a more countrified take on the title track, the slow-burn testifying of “It Ain’t Easier,” and “Still Gone,” which evoked nothing so much as the Captain and Tennille. And she did both of the songs that were added to the recently released deluxe version of the album, paying tribute to another Brit partial to incorporations of American country music with her fine cover of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (a cover that has received plaudits from Sir Elton himself).


When she left the confines of “Walk Through Fire,” it was for what she called “a bit of surprise” in the form of a reverberating cover of the Beach Boys’ deep cut “'Til I Die.” Her encore (which, the singer joked beforehand, represented a covenant between audience and performer; when she announced that she was about to do her “last song” of the evening, they would know what to do) also consisted of covers. It began with a tear through Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” that modulated into the Joe Cocker version of “The Letter,” and ended with a nod to “Walk Through Fire” producer/collaborator Dan Auerbach via a rendition of his “Stand By My Girl” that turned into a pounding soul stomp.

On record, the songs on “Walk Through Fire” are layered with steel guitar, strings, horns, and other instruments; Yola’s taut four-piece band did a marvelous job of translating and capturing the sound of those songs with their live versions. Her force-of-nature voice — simmering, restrained, and unleashed and soaring when the song called for it, rather than to display vocal pyrotechnics for their own sake — needed no translation, however. It was as remarkable onstage as it is on record.


Amythyst Kiah opened with her banjo and guitar, playing a set of songs that included some from her recent participation in Rhiannon Giddens’s “Our Native Daughters” collective. The ancient frail of “Polly Ann’s Hammer” was a highlight.


With Amythyst Kiah. At the Sinclair, Cambridge, Jan. 7

Stuart Munro can be reached at sj.munro@verizon.net.