Joy Kills Sorrow at Jammin' Java

Folk/bluegrass band Joy Kills Sorrow performs at Jammin' Java in Vienna, VA. Photo: Joy Kills Sorrow

WASHINGTON, September 30, 2013 — Joy Kills Sorrow proved to be a fairly talkative band during their recent live show at Jammin’ Java. That’s not to say they eschew playing music or limit how much they play. But they do most certainly drop a lot of band information on the audience during their sets that doesn’t feel like your common, everyday kind of banter. Among other things, this allowed the audience here to pick up interesting band factoids like the fun fact that both singer Emma Beaton and bass player Zoe Guigeno are both from British Columbia; or that Guigeno is in the states on a grant to play bass.

It’s nice to pepper these up-close-and-personal moments this band’s live performance. It leads to a great connection with the audience whether the band is actually intending for this to happen or not. Granted, most bands do something similar thing, often to fill the space between numbers, but also because it’s better to fill potential dead space by talking with the audience rather than remaining silent, distant and impersonal.

Joy Kills Sorrow tries to do better than that, and mostly accomplishes that aim, but not always. For example, when guitarist Mark Arcara chatted with the audience, it did very much seem as if he were simply trying to fill the void between songs, despite his entertaining patter and likeability quotient.

The friendly happy talk may seem superfluous to what Joy Kills Sorrow actually does during their set. But in sense it enhances the band’s innate charm and helps make their set a touch more memorable than average.

Bluegrass has its roots in Southern Virginia and Kentucky, and used to be very much regionally based. All of that has changed, of course. After all, it’s implausible for a longstanding genre of music to remain planted in single, solitary geography and mindset without gradually branching out. This is certainly the case with Joy Kills Sorrow. For all intents and purposes, this is a bluegrass band. But one that mostly hails from Brooklyn.

While they may be clearly rooted in the bluegrass tradition, however, that’s not to say Joy Kills Sorrow is incapable of expanding their sound outside that genre’s normal and accepted parameters. There’s good bit that separates Joy Kills Sorrow from traditional bluegrass. The band incorporates elements of folk and Celtic, even extending to big band and blues influences and eventually stretching toward an all-encompassing string band performance.

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A lot of this extends from Guigeno’s bass playing. She provides a solid foundation for the rest of the band, as she takes on different moods and colors depending on the trajectory of each individual song, whether it’s upbeat, playful, or somber.

This kind of dynamic sensitivity allows the band as an ensemble to experiment with the inclusion of varying textures within their songs, giving the overall set a genuinely dynamic feel. Clearly, Guigeno provides a solid foundation for the rest of the band during their set.

Ancara’s guitar provides even more foundational support to Joy Kills Sorrow’s output. His consistent guitar playing allows Jacob Jolliff on mandolin along with band member Wes Corbett to ping off each other on most songs, which at times feels like a friendly duel between Celtic and folk influences.

Emma Beaton gives the band an even more distinctive feel with vocals ranging from a somber blues style to a kind of upbeat crooning, all of which takes the ensemble further away from the generally accepted traditional sphere of bluegrass.

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That said, the reason Joy Kills Sorrow still feels so much like a bluegrass band is the fact that they still maintain that believable down-home feel. For all this band’s multi-faceted, multi-textured approach, there’s still a distinct, Everyman charm to the way they play. While a bit high-minded, they weave everything together so effortlessly they never stop feeling personable.  For that reason, by the end the night, the Jammin’ Java audience really had no reason to question that they’d seen and heard a genuine bluegrass band.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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