“This young, five-piece band that hails from Boston was one of the most impressive groups at this year’s Savannah Music Festival. Jacob Jolliff, the 2012 national mandolin champion, was a bandit single-handedly stealing the show with several brilliant solos while playing in front of a packed house on Thursday. One thing that Joy Kills Sorrow does incredibly well is how they blend their harmonies and strings so well together. In one song, they could completely bring down the house and transport the audience to a ho-down environment, then, within moments, singer Emma Beaton would switch from powerful to delicate vocals, carrying the crowd through the peaceful, rolling Appalachians. Their final song of the set, a cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” sealed their show as one of the best of the entire festival.”
”JKS is fronted by Emma Beaton, a fiery-haired, charismatic and intensely evocative singer with soul way beyond her years (only 22!). Her delivery combines Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin and Adele, if you can believe that. This is one of those bands, however, where the vocalist is able to shine precisely because of the enormous skill of the band; as good as Beaton is, you get the sense that they lift her on their shoulders.
And lifting the rest of the band onto his diminutive shoulders is mandolin player Jake Joliff, whose wildly careening, inventive runs take the instrument into a whole new arena. Unlike the rote step-toward-the-mike mandolin solos we tend to hear from bluegrass/newgrass groups both young and old, Joliff’s mandolin work anchors the entire tune, very much in the manner of a lead guitarist of a rock band.
Literally – Joliff channeled the macho/bluesy style of Duane Allman and Jimmy Page as well as the blinding speed and pure metal thrash of Dimebag Darrell of Pantera fame. Quite simply the most stunning display of mandolin mastery I’ve seen – and you tend to see a lot of mandolin mastery at the Savannah Music Festival.
JKS’s songs are inventive as well, combining nods to old-school narrative songwriting as well as a more bluesy, personal style. A particular highlight was the group’s now-legendary cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.”‘
“True ensemble playing – the sublimation of egos to a sound that’s beyond individuals – as on this album, is exhilarating. This is the second release by Boston-based Joy Kills Sorrow, the first with a significantly new line-up. They were mesmerizing in their eponymous first recording, but here JKS has found its voice – a band voice. Their name comes from the ’30s radio station where the Monroe Brothers performed (WJKS – Where Joy Kills Sorrow) – and that’s cool. They play guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass – and that’s cool, too. But the coolest thing of all is that they tell the truth. This is fresh stuff. Americana is rife with posers, but JKS is the real thing – talented musicians and singers giving it all they’ve got. Darkness Sure Becomes This City is more of a hologram than a CD – an exquisitely recorded and sequenced set that kept my interest from the first riff of the guitar on “Kill My Sorrow” to the last sexy downbeat of “You Make Me Feel Drunk.” Bassist (and a superb one) Bridget Kearney wrote 5 of the 11 songs – thoughtful, unpretentious lyrics, with a kind of casual force. “Thinking of You and Such” is a highlight. Lead singer Emma Beaton has an intimate style but with startling power – perfect for the material. One of my desert island songs is here – Dave Keenan and Nova Devonie’s “We Will Have Our Day” – and Emma sings it with the stark defiance it calls for. Matthew Arcara is a 2006 Winfield National Flatpicking Guitar Champion; Wesley Corbett is a Fleck-inflected banjoist with killer chops; and Jacob Jolliff on mandolin creates the appropriate rhythm groove and adds distinct, lyrical fills. Mostly, though, they know how to play together and that’s a rare thing. If I was putting on a music festival, this is the first band I would hire.”
- Sing Out!
“This five-piece Boston band of twenty-somethings should be able to get by on instrumental prowess alone, but they have much more going for them than hot fingers.
Among them they have a degree from Berklee, a fingerpicking championship at Winfield, gigging with bands like Crooked Still, but what stands out at first in this sophomore disc is the haunting voice of Emma Beaton, a Canadian to boot. Beaton, who was the young performer of the year at the 2008 Canadian Folk Music Awards, is equally at home with the whimsical “All the Buildings”, as with the bluesy “You Make Me Feel Drunk”. Then there are the songs, great pop-folk full of melodic and rhythmic delights, which shouldn’t be a surprise since the main songwriter, Bridget Kearney (bass), won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest–yet another accolade.
Finally there’s the picking, which is blazing at times, but always tasteful. Sure there are bluegrass roots here (the name comes from radio station WJKS, which carried live broadcasts of the Monroe Brothers in the ‘30s) but Joy is much more than Bluegrass.”
- Mike Sadava, Penguin Eggs
“Bluegrass revivals by young urban hepcats come around once every couple of years, but rarely as brightly as this debut from Boston five-piece Joy Kills Sorrow. Their signature feature is the fine, piercing voice of lead singer Emma Beaton, who, like Gillian Welch before her, brings a welcome female touch to a sound that can often be unduly masculine. Bandmate Bridget Kearney supplies the bulk of the songs – including the thoughtful ballad “Thinking of You and Such”, charming “Books”, and boisterous “All the Buildings” – but pick of the bunch is Beaton’s bluesy “You Make Me Feel Drunk”.”
- Peter Watts, Uncut Music Magazine
“Subtle and snazzy, this new jack acoustic outfit merges bluegrass with jazz like it was the most natural combination in the world. Meanwhile, singers and songwriters Emma Beaton and Bridget Kearney bring wry existential intelligence and a haunting, Celtic/Canadian interpretive quality to their delicate yet determined tales of contemporary dislocation and off-kilter love. Kind of like a more accessible, less pleased with themselves Nickel Creek, these are virtuoso art folkies who understand the value of being just folks, too.”
- Los Angeles Daily News (* * * ½ STARS)
“… worthy of Grammy consideration.”
- Folk Alley
“Darkness Sure Becomes This City is not only one of the finest acoustic modern American folk albums, but it feels like an important release that marks the arrival of a special group of fresh, young musicians.”
-Fish Records, UK
“It’s a rare thing that a live performance is a strong representation of what you hear on a recording, and Joy Kills Sorrow reveals a fresh, hip take on traditional music.”
“The music of Joy Kills Sorrow is, as they bill themselves, “modern American string band,” which, as evidenced by this fine debut, encompasses the traditional string band sounds and instrumentation mixed liberally with an indie rock sensibility that informs their modern lyrics and lush sound.”
“Joy Kills Sorrow’s embrace of modern folk song structures, the new project plays out almost like a modern, soft-spoken indie pop band playing traditional bluegrass instruments instead of plugging in. In many respects, you don’t get much more “alternative” than this.”
- Direct Current Music
“They live on a plane of melody, harmony and musicianship par excellence to which many aspire and few attain… Not many bands can do what these guys do. They are bluegrass and country and folk and a whole lot of other styles melted and poured into a huge bowl of good, producing downright exceptional music… This is another example of music being more than alive and well, but thriving. Thinking Of You and Such and You Will Change Me [are] songs for the ages.”
“Their music is fresh and original… creative and expressive, honest and sincere, played on bluegrass instruments but not defined explicitly by the style… What sets them apart 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.”
– The Bluegrass Blog
“Beaton is a marvel to hear—a full-throated singer who can air it out when she needs to and grovel in the gravel when she wants to.”
“Music as beneficial as a gentle spring breeze… a must for lovers of acoustic style folk.”
- Walking on the Glass blog | Netherlands (* * * ½ STARS)
Over the last 15 years, Signature Sounds have been at the forefront of independent acoustic American music, gaining a reputation for supporting young upcoming acts such as Crooked Still, Eilen Jewell, Mark Erelli and more. The release of Joy Kills Sorrow’s first album for Signature is likely to add to their reputation as ‘Darkness Sure Becomes This City’ is not only one of the finest acoustic modern American folk albums, but it feels like an important release that marks the arrival of a special group of fresh, young musicians.
You could loosely categorise Joy Kills Sorrow as Americana in that they merge influences from bluegrass and folk, but it’s all mixed in with hints of Celtic, jazz, indie rock and more to create a sound that is as refreshingly unique as it is familiar – it certainly breaks with tradition, but in the same breath has more than a nod to the music that has gone before it. The Boston-based five piece are obviously all well versed in traditional American music and have respect for the history of the material, but they also have an equal love of contemporary music and on this album it all comes together on this fantastic eleven track album.
They released a debut album a couple of years ago, but several band members later, Joy Kills Sorrow have settled on a line-up of some if the country’s finest young talent with a host of awards and accolades behind them that range from national flat picking champion to 2008 Canadian Folk Awards Young Performer of the year, to a winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. On paper they look like they should be something special, but the resulting collection of songs is even better!
Vocalist Emma Beaton has a naturally soulful voice that is as comfortable with a band backing her as it is acapella; and Jacob Jolliff is as fine and exciting mandolin player as you could wish to hear (and that includes the legends Grisman & Marshall). Beaton & Jolliff with the banjo of Wesley Corbett provide much of the colour on the disc, but the guitar work of Matthew Arcara and bass of Bridget Kearney are vitally important to the overall quality and much of the overall shape and sound of Joy Kills Sorrow comes from the songwriting style and overall arrangements of Kearney.
The album is a sequence of great songs, all with a slightly different flavour and just a little outside of what you expect, and that’s the beauty of ‘Darkness Sure Becomes This City’, it’s never quite what you expect and after a few listens it becomes apparent this is an important and striking collection of modern American acoustic music. Absolutely not to be missed!
- Fish Records, UK (January 4, 2010)