The Cistern yard at the College of Charleston is an outdoor venue within an academic institution older than the United States, an ideal stage for a delightfully deep-thinking band that blends bluegrass and strings with indie rock.
Setting matches artist for Joy Kills Sorrow.
“This Unknown Science” is the second CD for the Boston-based breath of fresh air. The group and its songs bow to tradition while exploring new folk territory.
Sprinkle on some pop and jazz and the Joy Kills Sorrow musical chemistry experiment takes shape.
“We’re song structured, viewing ourselves as existing in part of a great indie rock scene,” guitarist Matt Arcara said in a phone interview, “but we do it all on roots instruments and with a big influence from all kinds of roots music, be it bluegrass, old-time jazz, Celtic music. I’ve seen people call us acoustic indie folk, which I guess is kind of accurate.”
It’s a quintet of virtuosos, unique in unison:
Arcara, the founding member. Also an accomplished luthier, he crafts string instruments near his home in Portland, Maine, and won the prestigious Winfield’s National Flatpicking Championship in 2006.
Emma Beaton, lead singer and classically trained cellist. Only 22 and a native of Canada’s Vancouver Island, she caught the ear of bluegrass legend Laurie Lewis, who raved about “a voice like a laser.”
“Soulful and powerful are two words that come to mind,” Arcara said. “Emma is also incredibly emotive. She does a really great job getting inside the core emotional value of a song and really bringing that to the surface, and that really helps with the audience connection.”
Bridget Kearney. Just your typical primary elite songwriter who double majored in English at Boston’s Tufts University and Jazz Bass at The New England Conservatory of Music. Kearney won the John Lennon Songwriting contest in 2006.
Jacob Jolliff. The first full-scholarship mandolin student at Berklee School of Music, Jolliff has toured professionally since he was 11.
Wesley Corbett. A banjo player teaches the same at Berklee School of Music and is a national tour veteran.
Hence, the “modern string band” defying convention with a complex approach that translates to simply enjoyable songs. “Reservations” (off “This Unknown Science”) is a string jam guided by Beaton’s jazzy vocal.
Kearney’s haunting “Kill My Sorrow” is the first song on the debut CD, “Darkness Sure Becomes This City.”
Train’s gone broken I’m outspoken
stuck out and drunk like a trout
Broke down city they can’t get me
I’m too proud to move back down South.
Joy Kills Sorrow has been compared to the English folk band Mumford & Sons and the Seattle-based indie folk group Fleet Foxes. The band name is a tribute to the 1930s radio station WJKS (Where Joy Kills Sorrow) that featured the iconic Monroe Brothers.
“This Unknown Science” came together in a rural Maine barn, complete with farmhouse living accommodations. Joy Kills Sorrow members spent 10 days there working with producer Sam Kassirer.
“There’s no Internet service, no local coffee shop,” Arcara said. “You just kind of live there and make records. You wake up in the morning, you start drinking coffee and you start working, and you do that until you’re basically ready to crash at night at about 2 a.m. It really allows you to focus and to experiment and to try things out.”
Thus, the chemistry of “This Unknown Science” and the promise beyond.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff.