JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound
JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound
By Grant Britt
Chicago’s got soul. Mavis Staples, Sam Cooke, and Curtis Mayfield shoveled tons of the stuff out of the city and into the mainstream in the ’70s. Chicago-based JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound carry on that tradition with a modernized version of soul that has all the earmarks of the classic stuff from the ’70s.
Guitarist Billy Bungeroth described his vision for the Uptown Sound as a “multi-racial band that made sexy and political music you could dance to” in the ’07 ad he put on Craiglist to recruit the players and their lead vocalist JC Brooks. The power trio of Bungeroth, drummer Kevin Marks and bassist Ben Taylor look like geeky Blues Brothers impersonators but play with the feel and the heart of Memphis Stax soul legends Booker T and the MGs. Vocalist Brooks dredges up memories of Otis Redding, Al Green,Wilson Pickett and James Brown.
But these guys aren’t recycling soul classics. They’re creating their own, and they’re just as impressive as the soul gems from the era they reflect. Their one cover is a complete genre makeover, transforming the dreamy sludge of the original Wilco version of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” into a blistering soul track that could have come out of the Stax studios during an Otis Redding session. On “Don’t Lock The Door,”you get even more Otis flavor, with Brooks barking out the lyrics with Otis’ signature syllable-shattering soul stutter, with some Steve Cropper-style guitar splashed around for good measure.
“Baaadnews” is vintage JB, sounding like Brown’s 1970 number 1 hit “Super Bad.” For “Sister Ray Charles,” Brooks unleashes his full vocal powers from falsetto screams to throat-shredding shouts Wilson Pickett would be proud to claim. The singer channels Al Green in a song-long falsetto that scorches the ceiling on “To Love Somebody(That Don’t Love You,”) then taps into some overseas soul for “Everything Will Be Fine,” sounding like Brit vocalist Roland Gift from the Fine Young Cannibals (remember ‘89’s “She Drives Me Crazy?”)
Calling this music neo- soul is an insult. There nothing neo about it – it’s the real thing. Think of it as re- introduction of a classic art form, updated with reverence, love and most importantly, feeling.