JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound

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JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound Go Beyond Simple Revivalist Soul

:: JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound ::
:: Belly Up (Aspen) :: April 4 ::
:: Black Sheep (Colo. Springs) :: April 5 ::
:: Larimer Lounge :: April 6 ::

By Timothy Dwenger

In an era of questionable retro-pop taste (to put it politely), it’s tough to imagine that some of the most heartfelt and danceable music of the ’70s is coming back with a vengeance. No, artists like Sharon Jones and Raphael Saadiq aren’t selling out arenas, the revivalist soul movement is going full steam ahead and this year one of the biggest hits at SXSW — the music industry’s biggest conference — was an up and coming band from Chicago that fits loosely into the same category.

“SXSW ended up being exactly what I wished it was going to be,” said singer JC Brooks of JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound, in a recent interview with The Marquee on the heels of playing 11 shows in four days at the festival. “We ended up getting to open for two of my favorite artists. The first was when we got bumped up to do the Google and YouTube rooftop party and we got to open for The Gossip! Then later on, at one of the day parties, we performed right before Nikka Costa, who I’ve loved for a long time.”

These slots during SXSW surely exposed Brooks and his band to a wide variety of industry folks who may have only been familiar with the group’s breakout cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.” While that song is a great introduction to the retro soul sound the band is capable of, it only brushes the surface of their depth as a band. “In early 2007 our guitarist, Bill [Bungeroth], put an ad out on Craigslist seeking to form a band that made ‘aggressive dance music,’” Brooks remembered. “He was listening to a lot of soul music at the time, so that was one of the first things we started exploring. But as we started working together more we saw that sticking to pure soul was a little limiting, because there are a lot of other people doing that strict revivalist soul thing, and also because we had a lot more influences that we wanted to explore.”

The result is what Brooks and his bandmates describe as “post-punk soul,” and it’s a sound that is just as at home in a swanky soul club as it is in a dirty little rock club. Why? Because it’s got energy, it’s got passion, and while it’s got soul, it’s not all smooth and buttoned-up around the edges. It’s a little rough, it’s a little gritty, but it connects and Brooks isn’t afraid to switch up the setlist a bit based on the crowd he sees in the room. “We’ll get together before we are supposed to hit the stage and say, ‘All right this looks like it’s going to more of an indie crowd than a soul crowd and maybe we should trade out ‘To Love Someone’ for ‘Baltimore,’ or something like that,” he said.

Taking into account those kinds of decisions, this spring The Uptown Sound is touring without a horn section despite their records being punctuated with horns in all the right places. While some fans may think this will take away from the band’s sound, Brooks is confident that it has been a good thing for his group. “It’s been cool for us and I think it has helped to spur our growth. You see, we don’t want to get stuck as just a soul band because we do so much more than that,” he explained. “Because of the visual construct of the band — we wear suits, there is that black guy out in front, etcetera — people tend to look at us and see soul music no matter what we do. Not having the horns is helping us to reach new audiences because we can alter the direction of what people are expecting from us.”

For fans expecting the horns, the smooth talking Brooks has an answer for that one, too. “We have altered the arrangements a bit and sometimes the horn lines, or the space that the horns would have been filling, is covered by comping on the keyboard, or sometimes it’s by the guitar, or sometimes it’s up to me to interject a little bit more whether it be singing or speaking,” he said.

It’s clear by the reaction of SXSW attendees that these modified arrangements are packing the punch of the originals and packing the dance floors as well. JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound are pushing the revivalist soul movement to the edge, and we all might as well jump off with them, it’s sure to be a hell of a ride!

 

:: JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound ::

:: Belly Up (Aspen) :: April 4 ::

:: Black Sheep (Colo. Springs) :: April 5 ::

:: Larimer Lounge :: April 6 ::

 

Recommended if you Like:

• Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

• Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears

• Fitz & The Tantrums

 

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