There is no shortage of furry, scruffy, too-young-to-be-fer-real folk-pop outfits out there and every time one produces a hit, there are three others climbing over them to get to the peak. And as enjoyable as The Lumineers, Of Monsters & Men, etc. are, they all appear to try a little too hard to make sure that the “pop” is represented and forget what “folk” is really about: folks. The music that Joy Kills Sorrow create would not work in an arena or a festival stage. It’s intimate and soulful, designed for campfires and places that promote spontaneous drum circles. Wide Awake, their fourth album since 2006, is an all-too-brief representation of this spirit.
Wide Awake begins with a rapidly strummed muted guitar that has the effect of an electronic drum loop. Seconds later, Emma Beaton’s voice comes in with the mandolin and you realize that what you heard was produced by a human, and, well, Joy Kills Sorrow has your attention. “Get Along” is a little off-beat, but Jacob Jolliff’s mandolin shines through. Their cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” is a tribute to the strength of the song itself and again provides a “dance beat” courtesy of a percussive guitar.
Throughout all seven of the songs, Beaton’s voice charms and enchants. At first, she sounds meek and soft, but when she lets loose, such as on “Gold in the Deep” she appears to surprise the microphone itself with her power. The other thing that sets them apart from bands like The Band Perry is that when they do stray towards blues, like on “Working for the Devil,” but they don’t cop out and stay there; they employ some original melodies and orchestrations.
Wide Awake suffers from its own brevity. There is so much to like about these songs, ending with the slow and sparse “Enlistee,” that having to be done after about twenty-five minutes is a disappointment, but it’s one that any band would be happy with. Joy Kills Sorrow leaves its fans wanting more, but inspires them to start a fire, break out some guitars, and create their own love.