Joy Kills Sorrow is a young alternative string band based in Boston – yet another musical endeavor to bubble up from Beantown’s simmering cauldron of musical youth. Their music is fresh and original… creative and expressive.. honest and sincere, played on bluegrass instruments but not defined explicitly by the style
This is music from a generation of acoustic string players for whom Newgrass Revival, The David Grisman Quintet and Alison Krauss have always existed, and what may sound like a stark departure from settled norms to more timeworn ears, looks simply like a new branch from the same old tree to those in the thick of it. They use the form of the traditional bluegrass band, but their sound bears only the faintest resemblance to the string bands of the 1930s, or what Bill Monroe culled from them for his own radical departures a few years hence.
The latest JKS CD, Darkness Sure Becomes This City, was released February 23 on Signature Sounds, and it shows that this very talented bunch has continued to grow and mature since their eponymous debut release in 2006. What sets them apart to my ear is how well they navigate the minefield that any artist in a pioneering genre faces: crafting intelligent music without sounding pretentious; paying tribute to immediate precursors without being derivative; charting a daring and original course without a whiff of preciousness.
Like the wildly popular folk/bluegrass hybrids Crooked Still (also based in Boston), Joy Kills Sorrow is focused on airy female vocals – here in the person of Emma Beaton – with inventive accompaniment provided by Wes Corbett on banjo, Jacob Joliff on mandolin, Matt Arcara on guitar and Bridget Kearney on bass. Each is a high-level instrumentalist in their own right, with awards and encomia aplenty, and they work well as a unit creating arrangements that are typically sparse, as befits music that leans so heavily on lyrics and melodies.
The band has three tracks from Darkness available on their web site, and we asked songwriters Beaton and Kearney to share a few words about the songs. First up is Emma and her composition, You Will Change Me.
“The visually descriptive nature of this song came from some traveling I’d been doing recently. The evenings of my trips to the south had been particularly beautiful, so I really tried to capture that in writing this song.”
You Will Change Me:
Bridget wrote these next two, Kill My Sorrow and Books.
“Part of our band’s sound is based around having these instruments that come from the country and the hills and bringing them into the big city. Kill My Sorrow does that lyrically as well as instrumentally. The guitar and mandolin and banjo are ‘not in Kansas anymore’ and are playing in 12/8 and doing some crazy metric modulations and playing some ‘funny notes’ which I think appropriately compliments the singer’s story about finding herself far from home and drunk on a broken subway line.”
Kill My Sorrow:
“I wrote Books while I was reading A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway and it’s sort of loosely inspired by it. The book is a memoir that Hemingway wrote just before he died, but it is about when he was in his 20s, living in Paris and just beginning his career. Looking back at this period of his life, he finds a real sense of peace in uncertainties and relishes the simple pleasures he enjoyed when he was young and poor and figuring out what to do with his life.
I am young and poor right now…and trying to figure out what to do with my life! So I felt a connection to that and wrote this song. Jacob Jolliff came up with the instrumental interlude which ROCKS and I think really made the song work by adding an element of darkness to all of the supposed peace.”
Give this clever, creative band a listen. They’ve earned a shot.