The music Joslyn Hampton conjures onstage might be rich with the funk, soul, R&B and rock ’n’ roll inspirations of multiple generations. But at the heart of the brassy attack of her band, the Sweet Compression, and in the clear and confident command of her singing, sits a core element: groove.
“Oh yeah, it’s definitely about groove,” she said “It’s not something I can really articulate in words. It’s a feeling. It just kind of soothes your soul. It gives you that stink, that ugly mean face you make when something is funky.”
In just over a year, Joslyn and the Sweet Compression has become Lexington’s most visible voice for multi-directional soul music through steady gigging that has shifted from festival shows (at last summer’s Crave Lexington) to opening sets for numerous national acts (Nicole Atkins locally and Victor Wooten last week in Louisville) to the occasional evening when the band gets to headline, as will be the case Saturday at The Burl.
Lexington native Hampton’s work with the Sweet Compression is a family affair.
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The band grew out of a project she started with her stepfather, guitarist Marty Charters. Having toured extensively with Cincinnati-based roots rocker H Bomb Ferguson and the celebrated Chicago bluesman Junior Wells, Charters was eager for a new project just as Hampton was looking to graduate from performing with cover bands.
“I felt very lucky to be playing with such a great caliber of musicians,” Charters said. “But I had just become bored and desperately needed to care about music again. Then, all of a sudden, I hear Joslyn, my stepdaughter, singing and realized she has this unbelievable talent.
“So there came a point where I said to her, ‘How about you don’t go down the cover-band tubes and I don’t go down all the tubes and we start an original music project?’ I said, ‘If you would like to make a record that’s more classic R&B-oriented, I know exactly how to make that kind of record.’”
Classic-sounding, yes. But retro, not so much. “Love on the Double” possesses a vibrant pop command that underscores the dynamics of Hampton’s singing. A comparison? Imagine Whitney Houston at her absolute funkiest singing on a ’90s Prince record. At the other extreme are “Sunday Driver,” an assured mid-tempo groove-fest, and a sampler of cover tunes that the band peppers its performances with (the Funkadelic staple “Cosmic Slop” being a highlight). It makes for a cross-generational R&B revue — completed by bassist Smith Donaldson, saxophonist Joe Carucci, trumpeter Jeffrey Doll, keyboardist Steve Holloman and drummer Rashawn Fleming — that touches on blues, funk, reggae-inspired rhythms and plenty of organic rock and soul.
“We wanted something new,” Hampton said. “We wanted something different, that kind of invites everyone — music a teenager could be into as well as my grandmother. We wanted to cover the basics and try something that’s not really going on here in Lexington. There’s nothing quite like what we’re doing.”
It’s a feeling. It just kind of soothes your soul. It gives you that stink, that ugly mean face you make when something is funky.
Joslyn and the Sweet Compression have recorded 10 songs, with Charters as producer, and are recording a half-dozen more. But the band is choosing, for now, to release the tunes individually, as opposed to on an album.
“We were going to do the traditional album release and have a CD release party, as bands often do,” she said. “But one by one by one, people who knew better than I said, ‘Don’t do that. You’ll have a big party one night with a bunch of people buying CDs.’ Then it’ll be another year before you have something new for people.’ People just want singles these days. They said, ‘This way, every six weeks you have something new to offer.’”
Hampton and Charters jointly pen the Sweet Compression’s original songs, with an eye for compositions that do more than just move. Their mission is to serve a sound as complete as it is soul-savvy.
“I was telling Joslyn that we needed to write songs with legitimate substance, where the lyrics aren’t throwaways and where there are strong hooks,” Charters said. “We’re determined not to skimp in any area by making sure we’ve got strong hooks, strong lyrics, …”
“And,” Hampton interjected, “groove.”