JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound Take Soul In A New Direction

08/02/2013
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(Radio.com) They may be fans of artists like Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, and have more than a few Stax songs in their music collections, but don't call JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound a "soul" band and leave it at that.

If you need proof, just give a listen to the Chicago band's new album Howl. Released earlier this summer, Howl is the band's third album, and there's nothing "retro" about it.

It's true, however, that classic soul has been the group's chief identity since they first formed (via a Craigslist ad placed by guitarist Billy Bungeroth) in 2007. At that point, the young bandmates (Brooks, Bungeroth, drummer Kevin Marks, and bassist Ben Taylor–keyboardist Andy Rosenstein joined later) were eager to explore the genre, and they wound up creating two solid albums that dug in deep, starting with 2009′s Beat Of Our Own Drum. Continuing their journey down the soul music pathway, they also landed a prestigious gig as part of the Numero Group's "Eccentric Soul Revue," where they backed vintage soul artists like Syl Johnson and Renaldo Domino. The Revue earned them a good deal more positive press, and they took that musical experience with them into the studio when they cut their second album, 2011′s Want More.

This year, though, the members of JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound have shifted gears. While not abandoning the soul sound that built their reputation, their new album Howl takes that sound, shakes it out a bit, and guides it new directions. It's still music you can dance to–which was one of the 'mission statements' when the band first formed–but sonically it's more jagged around the edges, and a good deal more complex.

As lead singer JC Brooks explained to Radio.com in a recent interview, the Numero Group experience and their album Want More had "established that we can do classic soul well. But none of us wanted to be stuck there, because we all like so many different things." Gang of Four, the Clash, Steely Dan, and Tom Waits, for instance, were all names that got a rise out of Brooks during the interview. "If we did another album that sounded so classic soul," he said, "it would be like a point of no return thing."

And so they took a hard left turn and went looking for something new. The result is Howl, an album that mixes the vintage soul sound of their recent past with additional elements including driving rock rhythms, new wave-inspired dance grooves, and walls of fuzzy guitar. It's a sound that's fresh and exciting, yet it's still as down-to-earth and, well, 'soulful' as anything they've released to date.

As Brooks explains it, there wasn't one experience he can pinpoint that led to the songs and the new sound on the band's third album Howl. Rather, it was a number of factors that led the bandmates to the realization that, if they wanted to veer off in new directions, the time was now. He said the experience was freeing for them, as they realized, "We don't have to make happy music, we don't have to make soul music."

"A lot of this stuff [on Howl] is pretty dark," Brooks continued, "where Want More is kind of a party album." They realized this as they were preparing for the recording session, but they were OK with this new direction and decided to roll with it. More.

Radio.com is an official news provider for antiMusic.com.
Copyright Radio.com/CBS Local - Excerpted here with permission.

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