JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound – Howl Review

JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound Howl

One of our favorite Chicago Soul acts has returned with a defining work.

Bloodshot Records, 2013

8.0 / 10.0

Last year we covered Chicago’s neo-soul outfit JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound with their last LP release Want More. At the time, my largest complaint with the group was that they just didn’t seem to be trying hard enough to step out of the massive shadow of soul giants like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett to make something entirely their own. In December 2012, the band holed up at Hotel2Tango Studio in Montreal to work with producer Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Godspeed You! Black Emperor). This result is their newest effort, Howl and with it a marked movement away from what one would expect from JC and the boys and I believe it paid off in spades. This new record finally has songwriter Brooks stepping out with a collection of songs that only he could write. Even better, JC is letting the band explore more musically than they were able on that last album, making Howl an absolutely worthwhile listen from beginning to end.

From the get, JC’s performance seems more determined and inspired on the album’s title track. Brooks doesn’t exactly have the kind of virtuaoso vocal that some of his heroes could boast. What he’s doing here is playing more to subtlely with each lyric and it leads to a much more interesting product. Tracks like “Cold”, “These Things”, and “Control” bring the band well out of the expected R&B sound and into their own. As a result, I believe these are the best songs the group has ever made. Part of the strength here comes from the fact that this transition in sound doesn’t seem wacky or forceful. Brooks is selling hard on this being a serious attempt and I’m buying nearly all of it. With the band playing around him a bit looser than they were on Want More, the whole thing feels more like a live performance, maybe actually bringing these songs a little bit closer to that Chicago soul heritage.

So-called ‘heritage’ acts tend to be a critical slow pitch. No one really hates them, but you also rarely see their music getting the kind of end-of-year attention reserved for the world shakers. With Howl, I believe JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound have put themselves into a category that could change that. The songs here are more than retro kitsch. This is the result of a seriously good songwriter and a band that seems to finally know their own place in the world. JC Brooks isn’t ever going to be Sam Cooke. But, I think he’s fine with that. We’re all better off that he is.

Key Tracks:
“These Things”

Purchase JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound’s Howl

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About Chris Bell

Chris Bell was born in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO in 1981. His path toward a life enjoying music began at ten, when he first heard Queen. Chris attended Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, where he studied English and Communication Arts. While there, Chris spent three years working as an on-air disc jockey for 88.7 KTRM Radio. Chris was the host/creator of the weekly ‘Tangled Up In Bob’ show and a frequent guest on the station’s weekend talk format, serving as a guest commentator on music and politics. It was during this time that Chris was first published by the National Communication Association. His work, ‘Dylan and the New Left: How Political Song Changed American Political Rhetoric’ was presented at the 2002 NCA National Convention in New Orleans. Chris was the only undergraduate to present research on his panel, ‘Rhetorical Strategies in Music’. After college, Chris moved back to Kansas City and started his own talent management company, Poker Face Productions. He continued to manage that company until moving to Brooklyn, NY to pursue a business opportunity in 2008. While there, Chris started as a weekly column writer and album reviewer for 411music.com. Now back in the Midwest, Chris is hoping to bring what he learned about music media in New York to his hometown and support an already vibrant arts culture in Kansas City. His areas of concentration include American Roots, Glam Rock, Punk, Psychedelia, Chamber Pop, American Underground, and Garage Rock.

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