New Country Rehab / Joy Kills Sorrow Hugh's Room, Toronto ON, February 12

New Country Rehab / Joy Kills Sorrow Hugh's Room, Toronto ON, February 12
Joy Kills Sorrow are a Boston-based string band quintet featuring two Canadians, singer Emma Beaton and stand-up bassist Zoe Guigueno (ex-Fish and Bird). They impressed the Hugh's Room crowd with a pleasing set that drew on folk, bluegrass and indie rock elements. The latter came to the fore on a cool cover of the Postal Service's hit "Such Great Heights," a highlight.

Beaton has a melodic and supple voice, augmented at times by harmonies from Guigueno and banjoist Wes Corbett. He, mandolinist Jacob Jolliff and guitarist Matthew Arcara are all prize-winning instrumentalists, and showed why here. Occasionally their fast and furious picking seemed to distract from the core melody of the songs, but the crowd lapped it up.

For this hometown gig, New Country Rehab were clearly in good spirits, getting ready to kick off another tour that includes eight U.S. and Western Canadian dates. It was heartening to observe a full house, given that NCR currently seem better-received in the States than Canada. Their second album, 2013's Ghost Of Your Charms, deserved a better fate, and the strength of the material shone through here.

Led by singer/fiddle player John Showman (Foggy Hogtown Boys, Creaking Tree String Quartet), NCR combine experience and technical prowess with a fiery energy, a winning combination. Showman is an award-winning fiddle virtuoso, but that skill was never flaunted here. He's made great strides as a singer, songwriter and frontman since forming the group five years ago (his anecdote about a memorable gig in an Idaho death metal bar was priceless).

The recent departure of ace guitarist James Champagne Robertson left big shoes to fill, but new guy Tristan Clarke impressed in the role, while drummer/harmony vocalist Roman Tome and bassist Ben Whiteley are one tight rhythm section.

Showman knows how to pace a set, from the mood-setting opener "Empty Room Blues" (the lead cut on Ghosts) to the raucous cover of Hank Williams' "Too Many Parties Too Many Pals" into haunting slower songs like "Midnight Cargo" and "Cameo," a highlight of their self-titled debut that featured some plaintive fiddle. They saved the best for last, with the biting social commentary of "Luxury Motel" seguing into the ominous "Angel Of Death." More material from one of our very best roots-rock combos is eagerly awaited.