Black Music Matters Festival

Joy Kills Sorrow

Wide Awake – 2013 (Signature Sounds)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Joy Kills Sorrow

After only two albums, it might seem strange that a band like Joy Kill Sorrow would resort to some stopgap measure in anticipation of their next full length foray. After all, when your group's on a roll, it's best to keep the momentum going and forego any halfway measures. Nevertheless, with the band apparently itching to branch out from their standard bluegrass beginnings, it is logical that they'd use an EP to wade into new terrain somewhat cautiously, negating the need to shatter the mold entirely.

Those who have followed the band's trajectory to date may be surprised by the fact that the new effort veers slightly their rootsy MO, or at least seems so at the outset. Prefaced by a kinetic kick of sorts, "Wide Awake" sounds fairly daring, what with its emphasis on the rapid-fire pluck and strum adroitly employed by Wes Corbett and Jacob Jolliff, on banjo and mandolin respectively. The frenzied fretwork that dominates Was It You and Get Along and Such Great Heights (a cover of a song by power poppers Postal Service, no less) effectively demonstrates Joy Kill Sorrow's verve and virtuosity. While the driving delivery continually threatens to overwhelm singer Emma Beaton's sweetly crooned vocals, she still manages to steer songs like Gold in the Deep and Enlistee into more serendipitous realms, forcing the musicians to loosen their reigns and succumb to Beaton's sense of yearning and desire.

Ultimately, simple descriptions don't suffice as far as "Wide Awake" is concerned, given that it's the frenetic riffing that remains at the core of many of these seven songs. The melodies sometimes drift randomly, congealing only after the musicians put themselves in sync. Consider Joy Kills Sorrow a kind of genteel jam band, one that specializes in a sound that's often as challenging as it is charming.