Devil’s Blues


    If you’re a musician, calling yourself a singer-songwriter is no way to distinguish yourself. Advertising your new album as “a dramatic step” toward your band’s “sonic future” is a much smarter way to attract attention, particularly for a band like Joy, which can count on a dedicated legion of acoustic-loving fans. Devil’s Blues, the Boston-based group’s third album, makes me think about anything but a “sonic future,” but the band members have added a rich and bluesy texture to their sound. Still, they haven’t abandoned the acoustic-singer-songwriter identity that has carried them through three full-length albums.


    Guitarist Daniel Madri and vocalist Matt Savage founded the band in 2002 as an acoustic duet, and they’ve since added drummer Matt Dodge. (Ariel Rabinovic also played guitar with the band for a time.) Savage has a propensity to pronounce his lyrics with as much passion as he can find for the occasionally vague stories he threads through the album. Opener “You Were a Flood/You Were a Fire,” in which Savage stretches a six-line verse through a nearly five-minute track, gives an immediate introduction to this tendency.


    In “Tiger’s Paws,” Savage sings his coherent and emotional mantra: “But devil/ and doubtful/ didn’t mean a thing until/ I was fallen from you,/ come ruination.” Although the video catches Savage a bit too nostalgic of Ben Folds, the song is a highlight of Devil’s Blues, the closing verses characteristic of the album’s curious and abstract lyrics: “Don’t the words weigh down the music/ don’t the words weigh down our animal dreaming?” But curious lyrics such as these do not beckon the casual listener into the same constellation as Joy, and despite the passionate effort, such prolonged pronunciations become tedious throughout the album.


    The album’s up-tempo deviation is “Low,” which finds the band strumming through a few quick verses and a charming ending: “Sun on pale denim/ Hot on your Florida tan/ Why can’t I say fuck it when the odds bear their teeth.” “Red as Rust” also shows a pulse, but the arrangement left no room for lyrics and is therefore the lone instrumental track.


    Nick Drake and Wilco fans might get their fix of raw and emotional acoustic rock from Devil’s Blues, but the overall package lacks the musicianship or songwriting or something else that will lure in listeners.


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