Joy Kills Sorrow, Leif Vollebekk, Angie Atkinson

Joy Kills Sorrow

With its bold new brand of acoustic music, Joy Kills Sorrow pushes right through the envelope and out the other side. The Boston-based stringband brings a decidedly modern sensibility to an old-world sound, channeling the prodigious talents of its individual members into elegant arrangements and well-crafted songs. While the group pays due homage to its Bluegrass roots—its name is taken from WJKS, a radio station that broadcasted the Monroe brothers' show in the 1930s—the band truly excels in its rich and textured treatment of more contemporary material. Boasting a full arsenal of original songs, Joy Kills Sorrow plumbs the entire spectrum of its spare instrumentation, effortlessly merging influences as diverse as folk, rock, pop, and jazz. The music that emerges is dark and often funny, ruminating on modern life and love with eloquence and wit. The result is a radical new strain of folk music, one that bravely breaks with tradition even as it salutes the past.

Since its inception, Joy Kills Sorrow has performed at theaters, listening rooms, and festivals across the continent and has been featured on nationally syndicated radio programs. In 2007, the group won first prize in the Podunk Bluegrass Festival Band Contest; that same year, they were deemed the "'poster children' for the burgeoning Americana format" by Sing Out! magazine. The band has evolved considerably in the years since then, and their sophomore effort promises to deliver. Slated for release February 23 on Signature Sounds, the new album, entitled Darkness Sure Becomes This City, was produced by Eric Merrill and features a wealth of original material from members of Joy Kills Sorrow as well as some fine new songs from other composers. Darkness Sure Becomes This City is an accomplished piece of work, laced throughout with polished arrangements and pop-inflected melodies. With it, Joy Kills Sorrow gracefully combines the old and the new, and the outcome, however surprising, is sublime.

Leif Vollebekk

Leif Vollebekk spent two years searching for perfect takes. This search took him from his home in Montreal to a studio in Manhattan, from a farmhouse in Woodstock, NY to a mansion outside Paris, and the result is a dusty, polished, new, old record called North Americana.

“I wrote the songs, I found the best band in the world, and then all I had to do was find the right studio, for the right take,” he says. “And it took forever.”

After his 2010 debut, Vollebekk knew the kind of album he wanted to make next: a record like the ones he loves by Gillian Welch or Ryan Adams, that feel old and familiar even when they’re new. But also a record that speaks to the listener through its lyrics, with songs “that can hold up in a storm,” that are packed full of perfect little mistakes.

So he started writing. Ten new songs, the best he had ever written, with lines about love and the end of love, about journeys and homecoming, about the death of friends and drinking yourself dry. Now Vollebekk laughs: “I thought the record was done when I was finished writing the songs. ‘All we need to do is record it!’”

But when you’re searching for the perfect take, recording is no small task. It happened only piece by piece, session by session, song by song, over the course of seasons.

The players were these: Vollebekk, singing, playing guitar and piano, harmonica, rusty fiddle on “When the Subway Comes Above the Ground”; the jazz musicians Hans Bernhard (bass) and Philippe Melanson (drums). “I wanted to be able to roam with them wherever I go,” Vollebekk says. Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld played violin, arranging her own parts. Joe Grass played pedal steel. And Adam Kinner played tenor sax.

The heart of the songs was always recorded live, to tape. Old school, spontaneous, one real captured moment. To find these moments, they travelled. To Montreal’s legendary Hotel 2 Tango studio, working with Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Coeur de Pirate, Godspeed You! Black Emperor). To New York City, working with Tom Gloady (Ryan Adams, Sigur Rós, Patti Smith). To La Frette studios, in La Frette-sur-Seine, France. And then back to Montreal, for one song at Breakglass studios. Vollebekk even tried recording with John Simon, the producer whose credits include Music from Big Pink and Songs of Leonard Cohen. At his home in upstate New York, Simon listened to “Cairo Blues,” then travelled up to Montreal to record it. “There was just not a good take,” Vollebekk says. “I ended up doing it a few months later, again at the Hotel, between takes of something else – and that’s just how it went.”

North Americana took years. “All this time,” Vollebekk says, “trying to get one take.” But the result is a beautiful, alive, human – shambling ballads, noisy folk songs, vivid portraits of a 27-year-old’s watercolour life. “I feel like I created a record from 1970something that no one’s heard before,” Vollebekk says. “I’m haggard and this record is all I got.”

Southern-bred and Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Angie Atkinson's music career began when her marriage ended and it seemed like it was time to do something new. Angie grew up in Mississippi, a city girl at heart who brought the country with her when she moved to New York in 2009. Angie combines her metropolitan sophistication with her grassroots realness to create an alt-prairie-pop-rock sound that is uniquely her own. Whether playing acoustically on her ukulele or with her powerhouse band of incredible musicians backing her, Angie's vocals and lyrics cut through the bull malarkey and straight to the heart. Also she looks pretty damn good in her Daisy Dukes.

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Joy Kills Sorrow, Leif Vollebekk, Angie Atkinson

Wednesday, August 7 · Doors 7:30 PM at The Rock Shop