Joycelyn Owens is best known as the featured female vocalist for Walter “Wolfman” Washington and his Roadmasters, and if you like the music of that shifting ensemble, you’ll feel right at home with her debut EP—nothing’s been reduced here but her first name. In fact, the band’s been augmented by, among others, Ivan Neville on organ and an expanded horn section. The only difference is that she locks down center stage on these four songs.
Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t always work when showcasing a vocalist, and leaving the Wolfman’s signature mixture of funk, soul and blues intact also leaves that stage unnecessarily cluttered. Joy and the band all sound just fine, but there are too many times where it seems like she has to fight for attention over the big, brassy arrangements and endless solos, and that’s as true for her intriguing cover of the Hendrix deep cut “Night Bird Flying” as it is for the solid originals. It’s especially problematic because, at her best, Joy(celyn) is as approachable a blues-soul diva as Irma Thomas, with less pathos but more range, as warm yet uncompromising a voice as any of Malaco’s ’70s and ’80s females. Too bad “Nightbird” and “Prisoner” rock so hard she has to struggle to be heard. A more intimate setting would probably draw some deep, deep soul out of her.