For many, it was the upbeat interpretation of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” that first brought JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound to their attention. The gumption the Chicago band showed in covering its hallowed Windy City brethren in the first place, let alone to do so like it did, made an impression on many (including Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who subsequently joined the band on stage for a few live renditions). Three records in, and the latest, Howl, finds the band putting some modern twists on the retro-soul foundations it’s established thus far.
“We figured … now is the time to start playing with the sound and nodding to all of the other stuff that we constantly talk about but that we don’t really give peeks at in the act,” Brooks told opbmusic.
That means the presence of synths here and there, a torch song or two and a generally more inclusive sound falling squarely in the pop tradition — for a little perspective, a cross section of the music the band touched upon during a recent opbmusic Studio Session included ’80s TV themes, INXS, Destiny’s Child, Blackstreet and “Fever” (the Little Willie John original made popular by Peggy Lee).
Soul, however, remains the biggest part of the discussion, with Brooks’ vocals fronting the mix, and critics continue to come up with creative ways to describe the sound (“Otis Redding fronting The Stooges,” “Wilson Pickett whipping The Velvet Underground off heroin,” etc.). Add to those: emotional and occasionally gritty and, all in all, quintessentially American — much like the city it calls home.