"She's got [nominations in] four categories," Kiah said opening for Yola Wednesday at the sold-out Fine Line club in Minneapolis. "She can have the other three [wins] and let me have the one. We'll be even."
Regardless who wins for best American roots song — or any other Grammy — Yola and Kiah deserve awards for their Minneapolis debut performances: strong material, arresting voices, engaging personalities and tremendous potential.
Yola, a country-soul singer-songwriter, and Kiah, a member of the Rhiannon Giddens-led quartet Our Native Daughters, are as different as their respective hometowns (the English port of Bristol and the Tennessee mountain town of Johnson City). But they hit it off when they performed at a Dolly Parton tribute in Scotland in 2014. And they were an ideal fit on the same bill on a bitterly cold night in Minnesota.
Yola, 36, is as chatty and cheery as Adele, with an emotion-filled catalog of heartbreak songs that would make her fellow Brit proud.
"I can't hardly stay here," Yola said midway through her 80-minute set. "It's so cold. It really is. I could come for a little holiday maybe."
"Come in the summer," a fan shouted.
"Summer's good?" Yola countered. "Thanks for the heads up. I'm from England; it doesn't have to be that good."
Well, Yola was that good Wednesday, earning a more and more enthusiastic reaction as the night wore on.
Working in Nashville, she crafted some alluring country-soul songs with the help of producer Dan Auerbach of Black Keys fame and such established songwriters as Dan Penn and John Bettis. Her 2019 debut solo album, "Walk Through Fire," is a meritorious Grammy finalist for best Americana album.
Yola's concert featured almost all the songs from the record, a tune from her 2016 EP and a handful of covers, including Auerbach's stomping rocker "Stand By My Girl."
Her own material has one foot in Nashville and the other in Memphis. Backed by a quartet, Yola often evoked 1970s Southern soul, with hints of Rita Coolidge with more vocal oomph and Mentor Williams, who wrote the classic "Drift Away."
Musically, the songs hewed closely to the album arrangements, with little opportunity for Yola or guitarist Jerry Bernhardt to cut loose. She did offer a hint of gospel testifying on the end of "Love Is Light," whose chorus suggested U2's "One Love." And she let it be known a couple of times that she has a big voice but her screams were very controlled. Except on the stunning Reba McEntire-ish "It Ain't Easier," a melancholy number that was prime for slow dancing if the floor hadn't been packed.
"Tell me people. Is love easy?" she screamed over and over with a raw throat. "It ain't easy," she crooned a cappella. "No."
There's no doubt that Yola grew up on music from the 1960s and early '70s. Echoes of Dusty Springfield, Phil Spector and Boardwalk soul could be heard in her original material, seasoned by twangy electric guitar and soulful organ fills.
Yola acknowledged her influences by doing a heavenly treatment of the Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe," a Broadway-esque reading of Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and an overheated version of Aretha Franklin's "You're All I Need to Get By."
By the end of the triumphant night, it was clear that Yola is a worthy nominee for Grammy's best new artist, though she'll be hard pressed to compete with the more high-profile success of Lizzo and Billie Eilish. Maybe she'll grab a Grammy in one of her three Americana/American roots categories.