“Bombastic, yet tender. Explosive, yet reflective. Soul-stirring and movement-inducing.”
This is how Boston’s A.S.S. describes their music.
Butt jokes aside, The American Symphony of Soul is Boston’s latest funk/soul powerhouse to watch, formed at Tufts University in 2011 out of a school jazz combo. After playing in various bands, the eleven-member soul collective grew to be one. Today, Sound of Boston is proud to premiere their debut album, Swept Up.
The album, which was recorded at two Somerville studios—Q Division and Phoenix Down Recording—is a 35-minute work of shining horns, shuffling drums, and rippling electric piano, organ, bass, and guitar. In “Galapagos,” guitarist Alex Mijailovic breaks into a solo you might mistake for a Carlos Santana melody. “You Got Me Bad” is so tight it could well have been produced by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars (the album was produced by Joe Bagale of the Mickey Hart Band).
Though the band consists of undeniably talented musicians, the group’s biggest asset is singer Kristen Ransom, whose cool vocals are both smooth and rough like skating rink ice. ” It’s clear you don’t know / Let me introduce myself” she sings on the first track, “Guess They Never Told You.”
Though she doesn’t know the chord changes behind the music—the instrumentals are written around her lyrics in a “super collaborative, puzzle sort of way”—her lyrics are mature and rooted in blues. “I’ve been around this way before / And the things that I’ve seen, I don’t wanna no more,” she sings on “Square One,” a waltz-time expose of vocal energy.
As bassist Jesse Brotter explained in an email, Ford was six months pregnant when they recorded the album. “I think you can hear the power of two in those vocals.”
The album’s title track, “Swept Up,” is about finding inner strength—something that keyboardist Chris Hamblin may currently be searching for. He now lives in complete isolation in New Zealand in a camper (which he’s rigged with a grand piano). “We miss him like crazy,” Brotter said. “It’s a really interesting time to have him leave just as this massive work is coming to completion.”
The final song off the record is a gentle, fifty-two-second electric piano ballad by Hamblin, who was alone in the studio and unaware he was being recorded. “It’s a really sentimental, sweet thing to have him there at the end, sending the listener off with a kind of personal instrumental moment,” said Brotter.
What’s next for the band? With plans to spread their funk beyond city limits, the group is hoping to become Boston’s “funk/soul/RnB ambassadors.” And now that the debut is done, they’re writing new songs.
American Symphony of Soul, you got me bad. I think I’m in love with that A.S.S.
Check them out live at The Middle East Corner, February 5 at 10:30 p.m. for their album release show.
For more Sound of Boston exclusive premieres, click here.