Joy Kills Sorrow: Darkness Sure Becomes This City

There’s something befittingly wholesome about an acoustic band with female singers who say they get drunk on love and don’t need liquor.

Joy Kills Sorrow

Darkness Sure Becomes This City

Label: Signature Sounds
US Release Date: 2010-02-23

In certain musical genres, like bluegrass and old-time country, fans denigrate certain groups for sounding too professional. The devotees consider slickness a sign of inauthenticity. That can be a problem for those pickers who master their instruments with felicity and finesse. They just play too darn well.

There is a kernel of truth in the criticism, as sometimes music that is performed too well can reek of sterility. That’s a danger faced by flat-picking acoustic guitarist Matt Arcara, banjo player Wesley Corbett, and mandolinist Jacob Joliff, the instrumental heart of Joy Kills Sorrow. They always play clear and crisp. That’s largely a good thing, but gets to be boring song after song. You wish they’d hit a wrong note or break a string.

“Darkness Sure Becomes This City” is not an instrumental album, though. Emma Beaton’s vocals share the spotlight with the band. Beaton does her best to sing on an even keel and never overshadow the strings. Again, this is commendable in theory and does yield to some nice interplay, especially on the song from which the title comes, “All The Buildings”. However, it would be nice to hear a wider ranger of emotions from the lead vocalist. While the lyrics of the almost dozen tunes vary in tone and feeling, Beaton’s voice only varies in subtle ways. Happy or sad, she seems to keep most of her feelings inside.

Part of this is due to the material itself. Almost half of the songs were written by bassist/harmony vocalist Bridget Kearney, and they are the best ones on the album. They are literate, if a bit earnest, and at their best reveal a reflective mind. However, her narrators are afraid to take risks. They curse buildings that block the light and call themselves sinners because they don’t do enough, they don’t love others deeply for fear of being hurt, and their idea of going wild is riding bicycles in the dark. There is only so much Beaton can do as a singer with such self-contained characters. There is only so much the pickers can do when expressing the joy and angst of such temperate personalities. The narrators of the other songs aren’t much different in this respect, as they express the excitement of waiting for a letter or the anticipation of life after death, and such. Ho-hum.

There’s something befittingly wholesome about an acoustic band with female singers who say they get drunk on love and don’t need liquor, who talk about beauty and mystery, and find the problems with city life is that the buildings block the sun and the subways don’t run on time. If you are looking for good clean pickin’ and good clean fun, Joy Kills Sorrow is your cup of tea. As for me, I prefer a different beverage. One that can make you cry or laugh, make you think you’re smart when you’re being stupid, and make you do things you regret. Of course, I am speaking metaphorically here. You don’t need alcohol to have a good time, but you need something to kick your ass if you want to make truly memorable music.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.