Joy Oladokun is a major label artist who is grinding out a niche for herself by writing beautifully crafted songs and playing small venues across America on her current tour. She, and her work, have the unique ability to embody the disparate and create synthesis out of a sincere questioning of cultural and religious norms. There is strength in Oladokun’s words, but there is also a sweetness and as much of a longing for understanding as there is to bring people to what is right. So, it probably should not have been a surprise that the smooth rich voice and production that characterizes the music she releases was presented in concert as a raw four-piece rock band. Afterall, Joy is an artist who continually fuses the possible and impossible.
The first thing to know is that Joy draws an audience is extremely dedicated fans. She has a real connection with her fans. The connection is directly related to the lyrics and themes of her music. She writes about her journey and her struggles. Struggles for understanding and identity. That means several things for an artist. Two of things are acceptance and grace. Joy is embraced before she walks on stage and when she is on stage, she is given the latitude to speak openly on whatever is on her heart. This phenomenon creates such a great environment for art. It feeds the energy in the room and sense of connection to the artist. This is a palpable part of this shows experience. It laid the foundation for a very enjoyable evening.
The evening opened with a set from Nashville artist Bre Kennedy. Bre writes about the labors of her personal and musical journey. She stepped on stage alone with only a microphone and a Gibson. Her voice is both lovely and at times haunting. She charmed the audience and her self-deprecating humor played well in the small venue. The Studio at The Factory is a new venue that suits artists like Bre and really is a great addition to the Dallas music scene.
Joy and the band opened with one of my favorites. “if you got a problem.” The song was a solid open and got everyone engaged with the music right away. Through the next three songs (“Smoke,” “Keeping the Light On,” and “Sorry.”) a few facets of the show started to emerge. Joy was going to share clever little back-story to her songs. Most of the stories, like her, were filled with lovely personal paradoxes. Also, the band was all in on a raw rock sound with a groovy bass line and percussion elements that effortless slid in and out of various world beats. These elements all came together with Joy throwing down some distorted lead guitar on the band’s mash up of “I See America” with Nirvana “Entertain Us.” The crowd ate it up and I must admit I gave my daughter a fist bump while singing “hello hello hello how low.”
The show had its obligatory singer/songwriter bridge. The band left the stage, Joy picked up an acoustic, and shared stories and songs. Her mash up of “Blink Twice” and Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was particularly lovely. This was my favorite part of the evening. It felt like a genuine conversation.
Winding down the show with “Jordan” and “Sunday,” two songs that explore her journey and struggle with community, faith, and identity was the perfect way to wind down the show. These songs are an homage to spirituals like “Down by the Riverside.” But unlike Al Green’s and Leon Bridges' songs these feel more personal and ask so much more of the listener.
The show ended with great version of “Mercy” that built into a nice little jam session that gave the crowd a terrific send off. It’s great to catch artist on the rise. The shows are inexpensive and the settings are intimate. It’s safe to bet that next time around Joy will be filling a larger room.