Joy Kills Sorrow defies label

Mandolin player Jacob Jolliff of Joy Kills Sorrow plays at sound check Thursday afternoon.

Review BY CHRIS BAKER Special to The Post and Courier

Joy Kills Sorrow embraces the fusion of folk, blues and pop that has skyrocketed bands like Mumford and Sons and Bon Iver to international acclaim. And while comparisons to such indie sensations are unavoidable, the group has something most others lack: a woman’s touch.

With bluegrass instruments, earthy vocals and rock swagger, the Boston-based five-piece band enthralled a full house Thursday night at the Cistern Yard. Singer Emma Beaton’s voice and chief songwriter Bridget Kearney’s haunting lyrics provided a piercing contrast to the mandolin-fueled beats of the string band.

The band’s name is a tribute to 1930s radio station WJKS (Where Joy Kills Sorrow), which featured the music of bluegrass legends the Monroe Brothers. And while Joy Kills Sorrow plays bluegrass instruments, their music is too diverse to be classified thusly.

Since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2007, the group has been spreading its distinctive brand of lyrical pop-grass across the nation. Thursday evening marked their first trip to South Carolina. “It’s hot down here,” Beaton told the crowd. “And I’m from Canada.”

Beaton adds powerfully delicate vocals to the jaunty folk instrumentals of Matthew Arcara (guitar), Jacob Jolliff (mandolin), Wesley Corbett (banjo) and Kearney (bass). While each musician brings along a plethora of accolades — including Beaton, the 2008 Canadian Folk Music Awards’ Young Performer of the Year — Jolliff’s raging mandolin stood out among the instrumentals. He proved why he earned Berklee College of Music’s first full scholarship for a mandolin player with romping solos throughout the evening, most notably during the band’s cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.”

Between plugs for their Facebook page and shout-outs to Caviar & Bananas, Beaton & Co. worked in an amalgamation of soulful serenades and grassy blues tunes, including “You Make Me Feel Drunk,” the closing track on their 2009 album “Darkness Sure Becomes This City.” The gritty blues tune possessed a simplicity and honesty that would send a shudder down Robert Johnson’s spine.

The majority of the songs, however, came from their latest release, “This Unknown Science,” including a foot-tapping caper called “The Ice is Starting to Melt.” Also from their latest album was the closing piece, “Jason,” played to appease a fan’s request earlier in the show.