Since establishing themselves as the popular live performing duo Ariella just over 10 years ago, soul, jazz and blues splashed vocalist Ariella McManus and electric guitarist Nicolaas Kraster have earned a plethora of cool individual comparisons – her to the likes of Etta James, Patsy Cline, Amy Winehouse and Eliane Elias and him, via his crisp fluid style, to Pat Metheny.
One listen to their raw and soulful, inviting, deeply plaintive but ultimately emotionally liberating debut single “Joy,” however, and I was instantly reminded of the Tuck & Patti, one of the most successful jazz duos of the 80s and 90s – whose laid back blend of jazz and R&B via a solo electric guitar (Tuck Andress) and lush, dusky voice (Patty Cathcart) was a defining sound of the era.
Beautifully combining a sense of defiant assertiveness and wounded vulnerability, the track takes a clever dual point of view as it starkly chronicles the many feelings that come up with the realization that a relationship is, will soon be or should be over. Over Kraster’s easy strum, McManus realizes that “If I don’t bring you joy/If I don’t bring you happiness/If I don’t make you smile,” her partner has every right to walk out. But it goes both ways. Not only is she saying that if she doesn’t make his life better, “it’s time for me to leave,” she also asserts that she doesn’t need him to make her complete.
McManus shares those assertions with great vocal restraint, but she busts loose with a painful, searing cry in her voice when she gets to the heart of the matter in the chorus: “After all of these years/And all of these tears/All of the joy/No I don’t mind giving up the fight/I can say that we tried.” She follows that with reflections about how the relationship has helped her (and hopefully her partner) grow before emphasizing the need for mutual change.
Kraster’s solo after that second emphatic chorus is a prime showcase for his improvisational skills and to create an intense swirl of passion and regret (including instrumental “tears”) with the simple modulation of his strings. In under four minutes, and with blissfully minimum production, Ariella creates an ode to love, heartbreak and the art of moving on that demands numerous listens to capture all the sonic and lyrical subtleties.
Also of note, Ariella in 2019 released their debut album that captures their onstage experience, Live at the Hideaway Grill, one of whose songs (“Mr. Officer”) will soon be released as a studio recorded single.
Listen to "Joy" here: https://open.spotify.com/album/1LYhzc5ugv8GWGVzQG4DpW