You can only displace matters of the heart for so long. Sooner or later, every tattered emotion comes bursting out ferocious stripes. Soul band Joslyn & The Sweet Compression let all their pain, love, and loss flutter to the beat of slow-burning guitar grooves and funkadelic, old-school melodies on their upcoming self-titled record. Even when left to her own devices for a cover tune, front-woman Joslyn Hampton bends the lyrics to her every whim, into a torrential vocal tornado.
Alongside a stellar band of musicians, including step-father and accomplished player Marty Charters, whose resume includes work with H-Bomb Ferguson and Junior Wells, Hampton conjures a mixture of Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, and Whitney Houston. She cascades between R&B styles like a nightingale, silky smooth but possessing incomparable strength of spirit, vocal prowess, and storytelling. “We’ll get through these changing times,” she promises in wispy gusts on the closing number, a cover of Frankie Beverly & Maze’s “Changing Times.”
Joslyn & The Sweet Compression is a groove-hardy trip of soul music filtered through a vivacious, and sometimes lush, modern lens, a psychedelic soundscape that exemplifies truth in music’s ability to shake up the establishment. “Honey, Be” is a torched firestarter, one doused in a flammable horn section, a motif woven into the album’s stylistic urgency, and a dichotomy of confidence and egotism. “The narrator is either a real badass or a narcissist. We’re not sure which,” quips Charters, whose guiding hand is felt throughout the record, lyrically and musically.
Charters has a wealth of worldly experience under his belt, which further allows Hampton to take even bigger risks with her vocal tricks. Together, they are a force of nature, a balancing act trading off top-secret melodies and lyrics, and across 10 songs, pulsating and colorful, the two creative minds stitch together a truly remarkable storyboard. Recorded at Shangri La Studios, the album is taken to even more dizzying heights thanks to engineer Duane Lundy (Sturgill Simpson, Ringo Starr) and his rapt attention to detail.
It truly is Hampton’s angelic vocal chords that hold the entire album together, often climbing through the rafters or pulling you in for an intimate conversation. You could say it was a God-given gift she discovered very early on in her youth. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Hampton started singing in church and often turned to her family for musical insight. “My grandmother would take me to church, and one day, I decided I wanted to try to sing in the choir,” she remembers.
She was only four or five years old, but she just knew. She had her first major solo at 8 years old, and that set off a domino effect throughout the rest of her life. She sang in the choir in high school and even dabbled in orchestra. During her college tenure, she dove headfirst into classical music studies, which allowed her to expand her vocal touch points into an array of styles and aesthetics. When she dropped out of college, music fell out of her grasp, as well. “I was kind of lost,” she says. “I didn’t sing very often at all. It was very depressing.”
But a chance encounter with an aspiring producer ignited her passion anew. She did a bit of demo work in his studio and soon crossed paths with a cover band playing covers at weddings and clubs. Hampton performed with the band for a couple of years, but was eventually craving her own original music. “This new album is us trying to make something shake,” she says.
On the other end of the spectrum, Marty Charters matured musically in the funk-centric Cincinnati, Ohio area, and was influenced by veterans of The J.B.'s (James Brown's band featuring Bootsy Collins), Parliament, Zapp, and legendary local outfit 400 Years Of What. Through the years, he has enjoyed a number of notable successes, including touring the world as part of Junior Wells’ band, and sharing stages with Van Morrison and Buddy Guy.
After his stint with Junior Wells, Charters drifted back to the local Cincinnati music scene. “I found myself on a very dead-end path,” he says. “I was playing with great musicians for money, but with no real goal or purpose. As I aged, I was wondering why I was even doing this anymore.”
It soon became vital for Charters to focus on an all-new project. Now aware of Hampton’s amazing talents, he proposed the idea of making a “funky soul record with real musicians playing real instruments, and a warm analog vibe,” he recalls. Hampton immediately agreed, and the pair set about writing songs. The band, which includes Rashawn Fleming (drums), Smith Donaldson (bass), and Steve Holloman (keys), blends in rich, smooth tones to complement the provocative lyrics and lung-scorching torch singing.
“I don’t see danger in my heart’s desire / And this time, I’m not running for cover,” confesses Hampton in a slinky number called “What Did You Think Was Gonna Happen?,” in which she dismantles a flirtatious suitor’s advances. “They think, ‘I’m going to shoot my shot but I know it won’t go through.’ But surprise, surprise, I’m interested,” she explains. Turning on a dime, the powerhouse is playfully giving of herself one second, then wailing through the pain of a loved one’s death the very next. “Somebody please help me see how I can survive,” she sings on the showstopping ballad.
Joslyn & The Sweet Compression do not mess around. They plant a flag right in the heart of soul music, staking their claim and offering up refreshing tidbits of insight, showmanship and grit. Songs like the electrifying “Love On The Double,” “Sunday Driver,” and “Long, Long, Long,” a cover of The Beatles' classic, illustrate a breadth of remarkable musical beauty and ingenuity, often feeling wondrous and otherworldly. Joslyn Hampton possesses a timeless voice to rival any of the greats, and she’s ready to prove her worth right in this moment. And we better listen.