Scene&Heard: Joslyn and the Sweet Compression

And just like that, on a sultry October night, Willie’s Locally Known was filled with a damn funky beat. 

Joslyn and The Sweet Compression, consisting of a diverse group of Lexington musicians, set the mood and laid the musical red carpet for Joslyn Hampton to take the stage and display her impressive vocals. Trumpet, sax, keys and drums joined guitar and bass to fill those wooden walls with some tight, high-quality music.

They started out with an instrumental, letting trumpet, then sax take the lead, each musician feeding off what the others had done before him, and then, Joslyn took the stage.  They had to make a big sound, see, to match her voice. Good lord, that voice.

Dancing with the beat between her verses, the entire package is a tight assemblage. Beckoning the roots of R&B, Joslyn and the Sweet Compression rock out originals and sprinkle in a few covers. 

Joslyn and The Sweet Compression at Willie's

It is a masterful scene, each musician clearly exceptional individually; collectively they give the audience a taste of great quality. Joined on stage by her step-father Marty Charters on guitar, Smith Donaldson on bass, Rashawn Fleming on drums, Stevie Holloman on a double set of keys, Joe Carucci on saxophone, and Jeffrey Doll on trumpet, Joslyn owns the room with her deep, solid and flawlessly consistent vocals. Joined with backing harmonies by Rashawn and Stevie, her singing quickly got the crowd up and dancing.

Raised singing in the church with her father’s family and her grandmother Vivian, Joslyn’s life has been one of singing. She received a partial scholarship to KSU and was in their Concert Choir, and took vocal lessons for a few years practicing opera, which she loved. That skill and training are clearly evident as her songs complimented her vast range of skill, moving her voice up and down the scale with ease.

As for influences, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and Jill Scott are Joslyn’s big 3.

Marty cites Sly and the Family Stone, Chaka (a major point of intersection), The JB’s, Junior Wells and the Beatles. Also high on his list is Ohio funk hero Roger Troutman and his band, Zapp.

Personally speaking, nothing gets this music voyeur happier than a band that is clearly having a good time up on stage.  Talent helps, of course, and skill, but it’s gotta be fun to really draw the audience in, even if the music is sad in tone. The Sweet Compression, with their fearless leader at the mic, is clearly having a wonderful time up there. The range of the songs they play is diverse, moving smoothly from funk, to R&B, to reggae, then sliding nicely into a slower soul song, Joslyn’s voice never faltering. The backing harmony supports her so well, and you can hear the church background in her skill set.

Like most musicians, Joslyn has to struggle to make time for music between her duties as a Security officer at UK. “Go to sleep, go to work, go to a gig, go back to work…that’s my life.” Joslyn and the Sweet Compression has existed for about a year, and their entity as a band was created somewhat backward from the usual.  She and step-dad Marty pulled some songs and lyrics together and then headed straight to the studio with Duane Lundy at Shangri-La. After recording their CD, they then decided to form a band to get the music out into the clubs.

Starting from scratch, excepting Marty and Smith, The Sweet Compression evolved into the band of troubadours that rocked the stage at Willie’s in their current form.  “I enjoy seeing the growth and process of everyone, including me…We know each other so well that we kind of fall into the right thing…we all get along…I think we’re bound to get far.” Joslyn has a strong affection for her band and the support they’ve given her; “those are my boys.”

The next step, they hope, is to spread out in “little circles” to surrounding cities like Louisville, Cincinnati, and further. They’ve gotten their foot in the door already and will play Headliner’s in Louisville to open for the Victor Wooten Trio, of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones fame. The band is excited to spread their sound outside of Lexington, but is so grateful for the response they’ve had in the short year since they released their debut CD and began playing out around town.

They recorded a live video at The Burl awhile back and were so impressed by the love they received from the crowd. “I was very, very surprised by the positive response we’ve gotten from the community…it’s been enlightening and humbling.” She wasn’t certain that their sound would resonate with the community, “I didn’t expect it to really pop for everyone, but it really has.” When they recorded at The Burl, the folks came “right up front”. “It’s like a high, it’s an energy from the crowd that feeds you…Your heart kind of just explodes.”

After a solid hour of funky soul songs, Joslyn takes a break to cool down while the band goes off on another instrumental melody that keeps the crowd bopping. The trumpet and sax have a chance to flash their talent together, the bass and keys keeping the foundation strong. A well-played jazz or soul instrumental jam always sounds to me like a conversation; guitar talking to bass, drums answering with keys, the horns adding emphatic expletives along the way.  The Sweet Compression is fluent in that language, clearly.

Then Joslyn takes the stage again, and the magic continues.

Sliding into a Chaka Khan cover of “Ain’t Nobody” the crowd takes the dance floor again and the room moves together in one solid groove while Joslyn hits those high notes with breathtaking precision. An Amy Winehouse cover of “Valerie” then merges into a Stones cover of “Gimmie Shelter”, hitting Merry Clayton’s notes with the same bone-chilling intensity. She then slowed the room down with a bluesy song that lets her slide her voice way high on the register, blowing the crowd’s mind.

Their greastest skill, just behind that of her incredible voice, is their ability to work the room; to engage the crowd and make them an equal part of the experience.

It can be difficult, sometimes, to play a gig at a restaurant.  You have to earn your place amongst the competition of the alcohol and the delicious BBQ. Your music, if you want the crowd to move and feel the vibe you are creating, has to rise above the savory vapors of the food and libations, yet mix with it to create an all-encompassing sound that makes the folks want to get up and dance away their food coma. Joslyn is the perfect fit for that need; her R&B sound, her smooth vocals, the sweet sound of the musicians’ conversation behind and within her created the perfect mix.

Willie’s danced that night, as it likes to do; those wooden walls absorbing the smell of brisket along with the bass and the sax and keys and her gorgeous voice to serve the audience a complete package.

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Joslyn:

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