I’ve noticed an exponential increase in the quality of
musicians I've seen over the past couple of years. Maybe it’s because Portland is near Boston and the famous Berklee School of Music. Whatever
it is, between the fingers and ears I’ve witnessed on the Maine stages – well –
as my Uncle Bill used to say – “I’ll be dawged.” Whatever that means. But really, the best of the best are outdoing each other as a way of life.
Joy Kills Sorrow was loosely rooted in the bluegrass genre,
but they were so much more. I was very impressed by their recent set at One Longfellow Square. Emma Beaton displayed the ability to compete with singing peers of any age, possibly any genre. She
had spot-on pitch and wailed like a woman done wrong, or sang softly as a little girl.
The band was comprised of award
winning musicians, each one a stand-alone genius in their own right. The
musical upshot was dazzling.
Flat-picking champion, Matthew Arcara, looked as if he could
play Stonewall Jackson in a civil war movie. He held his guitar up high and
tight and played with dignified strength. Jake Joliff, whose beard and hair
resembled Wolverine, was a master mandolin player – in fact he was the first recipient of a full-scholarship
awarded to a mandolin player at Berklee school of Music. His fingers were like
hovering hummingbirds. Wesley Corbett was their adept banjo player extraordinaire, and currently teaches banjo at Berklee.
Their new bass player, Zoe Guigueno, formerly of the Canadian band, Fish and
Bird, replaced their former bassist, Bridget Kearney. (Fish and Bird was the opening act for them.) Zoe looked
like a cross between Greek singer, Nana Mouskouri and Tina Fey, with pointy
glasses, a dark pony tail and a bright smile. The band played well
together, and even though this was Zoe’s first gig with them, she participated as if
she had always been with them. She created stunning harmonies with Emma too.
Emma played it straight most of the time, with rather a
serious expression, rarely cracking a smile. I kept getting a mental image of
her as a shy, quiet child, but then the mood of a song brought out her
pugnacious side, and she was an enigma. Her voice held back a lot, somewhat in
the style of Aoife O’Donovan, but then sometimes she delivered a kind of Bonnie Raitt
heat and power. I admired the fact that her voice was able to
sustain its clarity in front of intense and complex accompaniment.
Joy Kills Sorrow was a class act, rivaling the very best. Visit their website at joykillssorrow.com.
For music lovers visiting Portland, Maine, I highly recommend
One Longfellow Square ~ "Portland's Premier Arts Venue"
Check them out at onelongfellowsquare.com.
Press photo from the Joy Kills Sorrow website, featuring former bassist, Bridget Kearney