Everyone from Iron and Wine to Ben Folds has covered “Such Great Heights,” the Postal Service’s breakout single from their 2003 album “Give Up.” But when Joy Kills Sorrow’s version reaches the halfway mark and breaks into an unbridled bluegrass solo, you know the band has something special to offer.
The Boston strings band, which will play Friday, June 7, at Fremont Abbey Arts Center, has been playing the song for years and includes it as the third track on its new EP “Wide Awake,” released June 4.
“It’s sort of an unexpected song for us to play. Of course it’s an electronic song and we play acoustic instruments,” said lead singer Emma Beaton as the band drove north from Berkeley, Calif. “We are sort of moving in a more indie rock direction so given that we’ve never done a cover before it sort of fit well into our repertoire.”
“Such Great Heights” might be a nice entry point for new fans, but it’s hardly the best song on the EP. That honor belongs to “Working For The Devil,” which slowly builds menace as Beaton infuses just the right amount of smoke and fire into her voice as she coos:
You’ve been working real hard but I’ll tell you how to take it to the next level/You can’t be a good man while you’re working for the Devil
After forming in 2005, genre-defying Joy Kills Sorrow has released two full-length albums, 2010’s “Darkness Sure Becomes This City” and “This Unknown Science” in 2011, both on Signature Sounds Recordings. With the help of engineer Dan Cardinal, the band self-produced “Wide Awake.”
“We had never done that before. For a band it can be a little scary, I think, making a record that is self produced,” Beaton said. “We had so much fun in the studio trying out ideas we had never really tried out before. We learned a lot making our last two full-length records and just being out on the road.”
The band’s roots are in bluegrass and Americana but there are plenty of pop and jazz influences to be found on “Wide Awake.” With just seven songs, there’s not a bad one to be found, though the EP closes on a somewhat subdued note with “Enlistee.” Other standouts are “Gold In The Deep,” which showcases Beaton’s impressive range, and “Jake,” a song that exemplifies the impressively thick sound that permeates the album.
“We listen to rock music and pop music and tons of bluegrass. A lot of different styles. I guess we sort of say we’re playing indie rock on acoustic instruments,” Beaton said. “There’s still a lot of bluegrass influences in our music. I guess it’s up to the listener to decide what they want to call us.”
Seattlites will get a chance to decide for themselves Friday. It’s a can’t-miss show for fans of bluegrass, Americana and folk-pop. Tacoma’s Kye Alfred Hillig opens.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails
Joy Kills Sorrow, Kye Alfred Hillig
7 p.m. Friday at Fremont Abbey Arts Center, 4272 Fremont Ave N, Seattle; $15 (206-414-8325 or fremontabbey.org).